By Ann Marie Foley - 23 October, 2019
Church leaders in Northern Ireland have expressed disappointment at the failure to restore devolution and to stop the introduction of liberal abortion laws.
“At midnight last night, 21 October, all explicit protection for the unborn child up to 28 weeks of pregnancy was removed in Northern Ireland, leading to potentially one of the most liberal and unregulated abortion regimes in the world,” said the NI Catholic bishops in a statement.
“This is a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives. It is also a sad day for our local democracy,” said the statement on the introduction of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act (which allows for abortion and same sex marriage).
The Catholic bishops went on to state that during the last three months, they and tens of thousands of people have been calling on political representatives to restore the NI Assembly to address the normal pressing democratic issues but especially to debate and halt the abortion legislation.
“To describe as a ‘stunt’ the efforts of thousands of citizens from all sections of our community to make use of the democratic system to address an issue of such fundamental importance is deeply offensive,” they stated.
The politicians had the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation and those who chose not to should be held accountable by citizens.
The Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, said that the new abortion law for NI would “be seen as irreconcilable with the Christian understanding of the sacredness of life. It is still within the grasp of Northern Irish politicians to prevent this coming into effect, and it is therefore surely a duty of Christian citizens to approach their local representatives to make the concerns they may have fully known.”
He said that he understood that as things stand, after 22 October 2019 (unless local politicians act in the meantime) abortions would evidently be permitted in Northern Ireland for any reason – simply on request – up to the point of viability and potentially beyond, depending on legal interpretation.
The Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr William Henry, expressed disappointment and regret on behalf of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, saying: “It has always been the position of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland that decisions on devolved matters, including the sensitive issues of abortion and same sex marriage should remain the responsibility of our locally elected MLAs.”
He added: “While we deeply regret that the consequence of this continued stalemate will be the introduction of an abortion regime far beyond what people may imagine, the failure of this attempt to restore devolution means that many other pressing concerns will continue to remain unaddressed.”
He also expressed regret that the effort to restore devolution was dismissed by some as a political stunt.
All of the church leaders said they had hope that something could still be done to prevent draconian abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
“Our focus now turns to engaging with the Northern Ireland Office consultation on the regulations that have now to be implemented concerning the change in the definition of marriage, the abortion of unborn children, and the important rights of conscience for those in the medical and nursing professions,” said Dr Henry.
The Catholic bishops want the freedom of conscience of healthcare professionals to be respected so they will never be required to support an action that conflicts with their commitment to uphold life.
They appealed to all local parties to redouble their efforts to restore the Assembly and power-sharing executive, to give expression to the democratic will of local citizens.