UK: Committee Questions Abortion Law in N. Ireland

By the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues

Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Last week The Women and Equalities Committee of the UK Parliament held its final session examining Northern Ireland’s abortion law. Currently there is no functioning government in Northern Ireland due to lack of a power sharing agreement between the two major political parties; a UK appointed Secretary of State is in charge.

Committee Members explained that the inquiry was triggered in part by a report by the United Nations treaty monitoring body for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. CEDAW concluded in 2016 “that the rights of women in Northern Ireland were being violated by restrictions on access to abortion, and argued that devolution of power over criminal law to the Northern Ireland Assembly did not remove the responsibility of the UK Government for this matter.”

The Committee was told by Karen Bradley, the UK-appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that the UK government cannot make changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion law and that she does not have the executive power required to enforce legislative changes to Northern Ireland’s institutions and implement any changes in abortion law. Maura McCallion from Office of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland stated that it was the Attorney General’s view that no action was required.

Pro-life witness, attorney Roger Kiska of Christian Concern, dismantled the Committee’s grounds for the hearing. He stated, “The reality is, the entire premise that Westminster [England’s Parliament] has legal competency to intervene into Northern Ireland’s affairs regarding abortion is built on a house of cards which requires us to accept 3 things: (1) the unborn child has no value or rights; (2) there is a human right to abortion; (3) the CEDAW committee’s periodic report on the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland has binding effect. Let’s look at these three issues in turn…”

Mr. Kiska then proceeded to break down each of the Committee’s assumptions, beginning with criticizing CEDAW’s harsh language condemning Northern Ireland for its pro-life law— which protects unborn children from the violence of abortion except for a life of the mother exception or if serious physical or mental harm would result. He addressed the CEDAW charge that laws against abortion “commit violence against women and amount to cruelty and even torture.” He stated, “As a civilised society we should all be appalled by the rhetoric being used to demonize the unborn child.”

He proposed that attempts by CEDAW to undermine Northern Ireland’s sovereignty should provoke a sense of anger explaining,

“First, the CEDAW Convention nowhere uses the word abortion or creates a right to abortion. In fact, many of the nations who crafted and debated the language of CEDAW and then ratified it, prohibited abortion in their nations at the time. It would strain credulity to suggest that a nation would agree to language whereby a UN Committee sitting thousands of miles away, could have authority over their national laws prohibiting abortion.”

The fact that CEDAW’s report was not written by a neutral body but by “civil servant activists” was highlighted by Kiska who described the report as “highly emotive and ideological, and as with every other participant in this debate, completely disavows the value of the unborn child.”

In his conclusion, Mr. Kiska stated,

“Life is precious. The reality is that every successful abortion means that a human life has been ended. There have been 9 million abortions in England, Wales and Scotland since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967…Northern Ireland has chosen a different path. They recognise the inherent worth of every child from conception…History will judge our generation for moments just like this. For my part, I pray we can do better. We must do better. The future of millions of innocent lives depends on us.”

The day before the hearing, pro-life and pro-abortion protests took place outside Westminster. Both Lives Matter, a new collaborative movement of individuals and organizations seeking to reframe the abortion debate in Northern Ireland, used data analysis to highlight that “100,000 people are alive today because Northern Ireland did not bring in the 1967 Abortion Act.”.

Amnesty International led the protest against the right to life of unborn children declaring “Access to abortion is a women’s health and human rights issue, and as such should be regulated like any other medical care and not by criminal law. We will be continue fighting until women and girls have access to free, safe and legal abortions in Northern Ireland.