‘Huge disappointment’ as UK House of Lords backs Northern Ireland abortion regulations

London Credit Karim von Orelli via Flickr CC BY NC 20 CNA Karim von Orelli via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

The House of Lords backed new abortion regulations for Northern Ireland by an overwhelming majority Monday, after the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected the "imposition" of abortion legislation by Westminster.

Members of the second chamber of the UK Parliament voted June 15 by 355 to 77 in favor of the regulations, which were approved by MPs last year when the Assembly was suspended.

Nuala O'Loan, an independent member of the Lords, tabled an amendment seeking to reject the regulations, which permit abortion up to birth on grounds of disability. 

Speaking during the debate, she said: "We now have a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. Abortion is a devolved matter. The assembly voted to reject these regulations on June 2."

She continued: "I ask you to listen to the people of Northern Ireland. Listen to our assembly. Do not approve these regulations."

Her amendment was defeated by 388 votes to 112.

Catherine Robinson, a spokesperson for the charity Right To Life UK, said June 15: "Tonight's vote in the House of Lords is not just a blow to the people of Northern Ireland and to the majority of MLAs, who voted against the extreme abortion regime at the Northern Ireland Assembly, but is also a huge disappointment for both pro-life campaigners and people with disabilities across the UK."

David Alton, another independent member of the House of Lords, said the debate preceding the vote "made a mockery of democracy."

Writing on his website June 15, he said members were told to speak for no longer than a minute.

"Eighteen of the speeches were against the regulations and 20 were for. But the front benches of the political parties were given extra time to make their speeches in favor of the imposition of abortion laws while Northern Ireland peers -- drawn from three other political parties -- were disgracefully given none," he wrote.  

He continued: "The political elites wonder why people have become so alienated and disillusioned with them -- this evening's proceedings should give them the answer."

In April, a House of Lords legislation scrutiny committee noted the abortion regulations were more expansive than were required by the law, while Northern Ireland's attorney general argued that parts of the regulations were ultra vires. 

Alton said: "Ignoring the House of Lords' own scrutiny committee, the devolved Assembly, and the considered views of disability groups, charities and the attorney general of Northern Ireland will simply bring Parliament into disrepute and are a slap in the face of devolution, good governance, due process, and just laws."

"Above all, it was a bad day for future generations as yet unborn and who now never will be."

The House of Commons, the lower house of U.K. Parliament, is expected to vote on the new regulations on Wednesday, June 17.

If MPs reject the regulations, the U.K. government will be forced to either redraft the rules or allow Parliament to vote on revoking the regulations.

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