By Dave Andrusko
These kinds of battles never end, but for now, pro-lifers have an important victory: they have thwarted an attempt to change Northern Ireland’s very protective abortion law to include exceptions for fatal fetal anomaly, rape, and incest.
A proposal to allow abortions in cases of fatal fetal anomaly was defeated Wednesday by a vote of 59-40. An amendment relating to pregnancies which are the result of rape or incest was defeated by 64 votes to 30. Members of the Alliance party were responsible for introducing both.
Unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.
The results followed a passionate debate. The vote followed a carefully crafted campaign by pro-abortionists.
“This is a wise decision,” said Dr Peter Saunders of Christian Medical Fellowship. “The acceptance of these amendments would have left the law badly misshapen and open to further erosion. As is clear from our experience elsewhere in Britain, once we legislate for exceptions we discriminate against some preborn babies and leave them without full legal protection. The current law is clear and right and fit for purpose and does not need changing.”
“It is heartening that the majority of MLAs [Members of the Legislative Assembly] have voted to uphold the sanctity of life today in Stormont,” said Callum Webster of the Christian Institute . [Stormont is the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly.] “There has been a media campaign to undermine the legal protections afforded to our unborn children, but thankfully politicians have resisted that co-ordinated pressure.”
Social Democratic and Labour Party member Dolores Kelly raised concerns that the change could pave the way for “abortion on demand,” according to the Belfast Telegraph.
She said: “This proposed amendment, what legislators may believe is a discreet and minor development of existing law, has also introduced a critical difference to the underlying philosophy of abortion legislation which will undoubtedly be focused upon by those who seek greater change.”
Proponents said opponents lacked compassion.
Prior to the debate, Attorney General John Larkin QC, sent a letter to a member of the legislative assembly and “raised concerns that changing the law on fatal foetal abnormality could breach obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” The Belfast Telegraph reported.
Mr Larkin wrote, “Providing for a criminal law exception for ‘fatal foetal abnormality’, as proposed by this amendment, provides unborn children diagnosed with such a disability with much less protection under the law of Northern Ireland than those without such a disability.”
Last November Mr. Justice Mark Horner largely agreed with The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission that Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights by not allowing for abortions in cases of fatal fetal anomaly, rape, and incest.
When he read his final conclusion, delivered over the course of two hours, Justice Horner had two options. First, he could essentially change the law himself (it’s called to “read down” current law to include these exceptions) or, second, make a “declaration of incompatibility,” meaning that the matter of introducing new legislation would be “for the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide,” as Lesley-Anne McKeown explained for The Mirror.
Horner told a packed hearing at Belfast High Court it would be “a step too far” for him to interpret sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to allow for abortion in these three instances.
“Having given due consideration to all submissions and the arguments raised therein, I conclude that such a view is correct,” he said. “Accordingly, as indicated in my judgment, and for the reasons set out in that judgment and as a matter of last resort, I make a declaration of incompatibility.”
Thus while the MLA was not specifically compelled to address the issues, the “onus” (as so many publications put it) was now on members.
Hence yesterday’s vote, which ran past midnight.
Ahead of the debate the Democratic Unionists Party said it wanted the health minister to convene a commission to examine the issue of abortion and report back in six months. According to the BBC, a spokesman said, “We believe that this issue should best be dealt with in a measured way rather than in haste and without the benefit of appropriate scrutiny. Rushed law can often turn out to be bad law.”