By Susan Gately - 10 August, 2018
A Northern Irish pro-life agency has sharply criticised comments by the Irish Health Minister that women from Northern Ireland will be able to access abortion services in the south when the regime is introduced.
Precious Life said it was a shocking and outrageous attack on Northern Ireland’s unborn babies and the democratic process.
Speaking to CatholicIrleand, Bernadette Smyth said that a cross-border arrangement already existed under which hospitals in the Republic could offer services in Dublin for children with, for example, serious heart conditions. “But the reality is that what is being offered here is basically not life saving, it is life taking,” she said.
Next week the organisation begins a new ‘Lobby for Life’ campaign. “We are encouraging the people of Northern Ireland to continue to lobby because with the suspension of the government at the moment we have no one to speak for the unborn child and to speak for women.”
Ms Smyth said it was “vitally important” to get Stormont up and running again, as “in the meantime it is like a free for all from Westminster, from Scotland and now from the Irish government. It is very concerning that in the middle of this whole battle there are very vulnerable women and ultimately unborn children who need a voice and who need strong leadership.”
Legally, there was nothing that could be done to stop women seeking abortion services in the Republic when they are established, added Ms Smyth, so the agency was now focussing on upping its own crisis pregnancy outreach operated through Stanton Healthcare. “We know that we may have to enlarge that service in some way. It could become more of a mobile service down along the border areas.”
Abortion is permitted in Northern Ireland when “it is necessary to preserve the life of the woman, or there is a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long term or permanent”.
Speaking at an event in Belfast on Tuesday, Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said the abortion ban in Northern Ireland should be addressed in the near future. “In the meantime I intend to ensure women from Northern Ireland can access such services in the Republic, just like they can access other health services here.”
His comments provoked a strong reaction from Precious Life. “Simon Harris campaigned for the removal of all legal protection from babies before birth during the Republic’s abortion referendum in May. Now he has the audacity to come to Belfast and demand that our laws protecting babies in Northern Ireland should also be removed,” it said in a statement.
“Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK and Ireland where unborn children are protected in law. In 2016, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against any change to our pro-life laws, so this must be respected,” it added.
Ms Smyth said that even in the absence of a functioning Assembly, Precious Life would continue to lobby. “We are encouraging our politicians to uphold the rights of all their citizens – born and unborn – and we will have to increase that [crisis pregnancy] service and if that means make it a mobile service, that we will offer on the border.”