Voters must hold politicians responsible for failing to stop the British Parliament’s radical expansion of legal abortion in Northern Ireland, the region’s Catholic bishops have said.
“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,” the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said on October 22.
“The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so. It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made.”
“Abortion is a brutal violation of the precious gift of life,” the bishops continued.
“The right to life is not given to us by any law or government. Any human law that removes the right to life is an unjust law and must be resisted by every person, every voter, every political representative. For Catholic politicians, this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of Catholic faith.”
Extremely permissive abortion legislation and the legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” became law in Northern Ireland on October 21 under the legislation the British Parliament passed in July. The legal changes will take effect next year.
The Catholic bishops also voiced concern at the redefinition of marriage, saying it “effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children.”
Previously, Northern Ireland’s laws only permitted abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, or where there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Backers of the law said it had saved over 100,000 lives by avoiding the permissive law that took effect in other parts of the United Kingdom in 1967.
The new law means no explicit legal protections for unborn children up to 28 weeks into pregnancy, compared to legal abortion up to 24 weeks in other parts of the U.K. Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland.
Critics of the British Parliament’s law said it violated agreements about the devolution of important decisions to Northern Ireland, agreements enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement that helped bring peace to the violent struggles between nationalists and unionists.
The parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly could have blocked the law from taking effect, but failed to reach any agreement due to a dispute between the two leading governing parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and the second-largest party, Sinn Fein.
The DUP is traditionally strongly Protestant and anti-Catholic, but also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. The nationalist parties including Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic Labor Party traditionally draw support from Northern Ireland’s Catholics.
The Catholic bishops and leaders in the Anglican Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches had previously called on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene to block the legislation.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties. It was not able to do business by October 21. The nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party walked out of the final critical meeting. Sinn Fein, did not participate in the meeting, nor did the Green Party and the People Before Profit party.
Sinn Fein, which also backs abortion rights and same-sex “marriage,” has said that it will not participate in the formation of a Northern Irish government without an Irish Language Act, which would give Irish equal status to English in the region.
Other nationalist parties back such an act, while unionist parties oppose it.
Jim Wells, a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland and a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, has called for referendums to address the new changes.
“I and many others strongly believe that both issues should be made the subject of referenda which will give the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to have their say,” Wells said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
“There is huge concern in the community about the total lack of consultation prior to these changes and a sense of anger that they were unable to have their views considered in advance of October 21,” he continued. “They were forced through late at night by others who had little or no understanding of the values of the people of this part of the United Kingdom.
The Democratic Unionist Party has been propping up the Conservative UK government now headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson since 2017. At the time the legislation passed, Theresa May was Prime Minister.
Wells’ comments drew criticism from pro-abortion lobbyists such as Naomi Connor, co-convener of Alliance for Choice. She said a referendum would not be legally binding on the grounds that there is no written constitution and it would constitute a plebiscite.
Connor claimed that legal abortion is a matter of human rights.
“Human rights are not an a la carte menu that Mr Wells can pick and choose from and these matters should not be decided by referenda,” she said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
She said that successive Northern Ireland governments “failed women and pregnant people repeatedly by refusing to legislate for abortion provision.” She said his stand forced women to travel to the UK for abortions “in stigma and shame.”
Connor said it was “highly insensitive” for Wells to make comments near the anniversary of the October 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who died of an infection after reportedly asking for an abortion at University Hospital Galway. Doctors refused an abortion because the baby still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar later died of a severe antibiotic-resistant infection.
Pro-abortion rights campaigners have charged she was wrongly denied an abortion that they say would have saved her life.
An inquest found multiple communications failures during her treatment while also recommending changes in guidelines for doctors to save the life of the mother.