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Bishops urge MLAs to formulate new regulations on abortion

By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 April, 2020

Stormont — The Northern Ireland Assembly meets there today for the first time in three years.

The North’s bishops have written to MLAs regarding the new regulations on abortion and urging them to take steps to reformulate the regulations so that they reflect the position of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland.

In their letter to all members of the NI Legislative Assembly, the five bishops say their opposition to the new regulations, which were brought into effect by the Westminster Parliament, is not only because of the Church’s teaching on abortion but also because it is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Highlighting the overreach of the regulations, the bishop say they ignore the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly had clearly voted to retain the existing law.

The bishops argue that the regulations go far beyond the requirements of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s (CEDAW) recommendations.

In their letter to MLAs, the bishops state that their opposition to abortion is rooted in the Catholic Church’s teaching concerning the dignity of every human life, regardless of age, ability, gender or background.

“This teaching prohibits the direct and deliberate intention to end the life of an unborn baby at any stage of his or her development. This right to life of the child is inextricably linked to the right to life and well-being of the mother,” the letter signed by Archbishop Eamon Martin along with Bishops Noel Treanor, Donal McKeown, Larry Duffy and Michael Router states.

Elsewhere they describe the legislation passed into law by the Westminster Parliament as an unjust law, which was imposed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

“We are morally obliged, wherever possible, to do all we can to save the lives of unborn children, which could be lost through abortion, and to protect mothers from the pressures they might experience at the time of an unplanned pregnancy.”

In the bishops’ press statement of 31 March 2020 concerning the new regulations on abortion services, they  flagged up that they intended to contact MLAs regarding their concerns.

In that statement, the bishops underlined that, “Politicians and all people of good will, who recognise the extreme nature of the regulations, should not meekly acquiesce to their promulgation.”

“We take this opportunity to encourage you to debate these regulations as a matter of urgency. Insofar as they exceed the requirements of the Northern Ireland Act 2019, we urge you to take steps to formulate new regulations that will reflect more fully the will of a significant majority of the people in this jurisdiction to protect the lives of mothers and their unborn children.”

The NIO noted that the commitment to protect life was expressed by 79% of people who responded to the consultation exercise conducted by the UK Government last December.

“As the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland we are eager to enter into dialogue with MLAs from across the political parties in an attempt to explore, where possible, how new regulations can be formulated, which express the will of most people in our society to support and protect the lives of mothers and their unborn children.”

The bishops also refer to their submission to the Joint committee on statutory instruments on the Abortion (NI) Regulations 2020 of 3rd April 2020.

In the submission they highlighted that CEDAW does not require abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks as is permitted under the new regulations.

The submission also argues that the regulations were inappropriate in exceeding what was strictly required and that the inclusion of the word “seriously disabled” in respect of foetal abnormality in Regulation 7 of the regulations “eclipses and goes significantly beyond the wording of the language of CEDAW”.

Elsewhere, the submission highlights that the regulations fail to provide an appropriate inspection framework for abortions, sufficient conscience protection for all medical professionals and proper counselling provision for those considering an abortion. 

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