Catholics and Protestants speak out against bill permitting abortion in Northern Ireland

Artur Widak | NurPhoto | AFP

The UK parliament has taken action to keep the Northern Ireland government running, but it includes controversial provisions.

The recent vote of the British Parliament to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is a matter of people who have no elected mandate in the area thrusting a major piece of legislation on the population, according to an Irish bishop.

The move, said Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, “is very, very bad for democracy.”

But his protest is not merely a Catholic thing. Two members of the House of Lords, Baroness Nuala O’Loan and the former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Lord Robin Eames, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May protesting the House of Commons vote, according to the Irish Catholic. The letter had 16,800 signatures attached to it and stated that the attempt to change the abortion law “treats the people of Northern Ireland with contempt, since there is this huge democratic deficit in a situation in which sensitive negotiations are ongoing.”

May’s government has said there will be an eight- to twelve-week consultation period to discuss how the abortion provision is to be implemented, according to Catholic News Agency.

The controversy surrounds changes to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which is designed to govern Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning Assembly in the region itself. It is to take effect October 21 if there is no functional government in place in Northern Ireland by that time.

A spokeswoman for the pro-life group Both Lives Matter said they “will continue to work for the life, health and dignity of both women and their unborn children.”

“Our laws and culture mean that over 100,000 people are alive here today because we did not go down the same path as England in 1967 when it comes to abortion,” the spokeswoman said.

As Charles Collins explained at Crux, “Northern Ireland is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, but was exempted from the Abortion Act of 1967 that legalized it in the rest of the UK.” He noted that the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland are appealing to Prime Minister Theresa May to stop the bill, arguing that it violates the principals of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. That agreement called for a local government in Northern Ireland, which must include representatives of both the Protestant and Catholic communities.

But that power-sharing agreement collapsed in January 2017—thus the need for the UK’s Parliament to pass a bill to provide for interim governance.

Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.