pregnant lady in red dress

Women and Equalities Committee report on abortion in NI undermines devolution

25th Apr 2019 - James Mildred

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) Report on abortion law in Northern Ireland makes recommendations that will undermine devolution, public policy charity CARE has warned today.

The report, published today (25 April), recommends that devolution be by-passed, and abortion legalised in Northern Ireland in cases of so called ‘fatal foetal abnormality’.

But abortion is a devolved matter and has been the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly since 1921.

Polling by ComRes in October last year also found that 64% of people and 66% of women in Northern Ireland do not think abortion law should be decided by MPs.

None of the MPs on the Committee represent Northern Ireland constituencies and the Committee was not even unanimous in recommending the final report. Two members backed an Alternative Report by Eddie Hughes MP, while four members voted for the Chair’s Report.

In contrast to the Committee Report, the Alternative Report makes some very helpful proposals which would respect the devolution settlement while engaging with some of the wider concerns about abortion provision in NI.

CARE’s Chief Executive Nola Leach said:

“The issue of abortion law in Northern Ireland should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives and not by MPs sitting on a Westminster Committee.

“No member of the WEC Committee represents a constituency from Northern Ireland and so making suggestions of law change on a devolved matter is unacceptable. The repercussions of damaging the devolution settlement in the way recommended in the report would be felt across the UK. 

“There’s no doubt that the issue of access to abortion where an unborn child has been diagnosed with a life-limiting condition deemed fatal before, during or shortly after birth is hugely sensitive. But the proper place for a discussion about this is at the Assembly in Northern Ireland.

“The prospect of Westminster imposing change is highly alarming, as any legislation put forward could be amended to allow for widespread access to abortion on request for any reason in Northern Ireland. We do not believe the hardest of hard cases should be utilised to allow for abortion on request.

“There are also a number of deeply problematic recommendations in this report, not least the claims that abortion law must be changed because the current law violates human rights. Such a claim rests on suggestions from one UN Committee which has no legal standing, and which does not speak for the whole of the UN.

“By contrast, the Alternative Report by Eddie Hughes MP is to be warmly welcomed. It makes some realistic and sensible proposals which would uphold devolution and engage with legitimate concerns some people have.

“We must not forget that thanks to NI’s life-affirming laws there are 100,000 people alive today across the Province.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For interview requests or more information please contact James Mildred: james.mildred@care.org.uk // 07717516814

CARE is a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives. CARE is represented in the UK Parliaments and Assemblies.  

The ComRes poll mentioned above can be seen here: https://www.comresglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2018-Both-Lives-Matter.pdf

The Committee Report is clearly contradictory. On the one hand, the Committee say it wants to respect devolution, but then in paragraph 126, it recommends that the Government’s Equalities Office should effectively advertise abortion by developing an information campaign to explain funding of abortion provision. How does such a recommendation fit with the stated desire to uphold the devolution settlement?

It is vital to note that most submissions (estimated over 80%) from the public in Northern Ireland did not support a change in the abortion law.

Speaking in the House of Commons in March, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirmed that abortion remains a devolved issue: https://www.care.org.uk/news/latest-news/ni-minister-re-affirms-abortion-devolved-matter

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