By Jonathon Van Maren
While eyes are fixed on America’s abortion wars with the court battles over the Texas Heartbeat Act and a rehearing of Roe scheduled at the Supreme Court, many have missed the fact that one of the most interesting fights over pre-born human rights is currently underway in Northern Ireland. While the pro-life Democratic Unionist Party is doing everything in its power to prevent the abortion industry from expanding in Northern Ireland, other politicians are throwing their lot in with the pro-abortion forces.
To better understand what is going on, I reached out to Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life. For those interested in her fascinating life and work, check out my previous conversation with her on the podcast.
What is the situation in Northern Ireland since abortion legalization?
On October 21, 2019, while the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended, abortion was forced on Northern Ireland by the U.K. Westminster Parliament in London through the NI Executive Formation Act. This innocuous piece of legislation was hijacked by pro-abortion MPs who inserted their amendment to Section 9 of the Act, and it was passed by a majority vote in the Parliament. Section 9 removed the legislation contained in the Offences Against The Person Act that had previously protected unborn babies in Northern Ireland for over 150 years.
The Westminster Government overriding the Northern Ireland Assembly was unprecedented. Since the “peace process” of the 90s, abortion was always a “devolved matter.” Devolved matters are those areas of government where decision-making has been delegated by the Westminster Parliament to the “devolved institutions” in the U.K. — the Northern Ireland Assembly, Welsh Assembly, and Scottish Parliament.
Due to disagreements on other political issues, the Northern Ireland Assembly had been suspended since 2017. The institution was restored again in January 2020. However, Westminster’s abortion regulations still came into force in March 2020, without MLAs (members of the Northern Ireland Assembly) having any say in the matter.
Since then, over 1,556 unborn babies have been killed according to the latest official abortion statistics.
However, the full implementation of Westminster’s abortion regulations requires the approval of all the Executive Ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Executive Committee is made up of Ministers, who are MLAs appointed by the Assembly to run the various Departments, including Health. It is led by the First Minister, Paul Givan of the DUP, and Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein support abortion, but the DUP is opposed to abortion and has been trying to block Westminster’s regulations.
In March 2021, the U.K. government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis gave himself new powers to force the Executive to fully implement the new abortion regulations.
Sinn Fein welcomed the move, but the DUP condemned it. First Minister Paul Givan vowed to resist the government order, and warned he was prepared to go to court to block the move.
What is the government doing to push back?
Unfortunately the Northern Ireland Assembly now has a pro-abortion majority.
The largest party — the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) — is pro-life. However, the second largest party — Sinn Fein — has always been pro-abortion. The third largest party — the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) — in 2018 dropped its longstanding pro-life policy to support instead “freedom of conscience voting” on the issue of abortion. The Party leadership is now pro-abortion.
Traditionally, the DUP receives its votes mostly from the Protestant community, while Sinn Fein and the SDLP receive their votes mostly from the Catholic community. The DUP and the small TUV party (Traditional Unionist Voice) are the only parties in the Assembly that take a stand against abortion. The DUP’s Paul Givan has introduced a Bill to stop abortions being carried out in cases of “non-fatal disabilities.” The Bill is now on its 4th stage of 7.
The small pro-abortion Green Party has introduced a “Buffer Zone” Bill to criminalize pro-lifers holding vigils outside the centres where abortions are currently taking place. If passed, it will be a crime to pray, hold a sign, hand out leaflets, or talk to or “influence” a woman outside an abortion center; punishable with fines up to £2,500 (approx. $3,440.) It will also give police the power to use “reasonable force” to physically remove a pro-life person from the zones. With the exception of the DUP and TUV, the Bill is supported by all the other Parties in the Assembly. The Bill has passed it second stage, and has 5 further stages to go through. However, time remains short for the Bill to complete legislative passage before the next Assembly Election scheduled for May 2022.