The Presbyterian Church has strongly re-stated its opposition to abortion after a minister publicly called for the law to be liberalised – but declined to say if she will be disciplined.
Last night the church issued a statement which distanced itself from the views expressed by Rev Lesley Carroll, and described the current law in the Province as an attempt to “protect both the life of the mother and the unborn child”.
In the News Letter’s front page story on Saturday, Rev Carroll – who is standing as a UUP candidate in North Belfast in next month’s election – had endorsed the use of abortions in cases where the conception is the result of a sex crime, and where a foetus is unable to survive outside the womb.
She also backed a “conversation” about relaxing the law beyond that.
While not favouring bringing Northern Ireland totally in line with the rest of the UK, she had said “there needs to be more discussion with an emphasis again on choice”.
The Presbyterian Church said in a statement last night: “While it would not be appropriate for us to comment on statements by individual candidates or parties during an election campaign, the position of the Church is very clear on many of the moral issues under debate.
“For instance, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland holds a strongly pro-life position.
“We believe that the current law attempts to protect both the life of the mother and the unborn child.
“We also recognise the great pain involved in the extremely difficult circumstances faced by women and their families facing a pregnancy crisis. Last year we called for the provision of comprehensive perinatal care services, including practical, emotional and spiritual support for women to be a top priority.
“In all situations and circumstances, these issues need to be handled with grace, sensitivity and compassion.”
However, the statement made no mention of any possible disciplinary sanctions against Rev Carroll for her comments on abortion.
Rev Carroll had also indicated to the News Letter that she has a more liberal stance than many within the church when it comes to the issue of gay marriage.
She had told the paper that, if forced to vote on the issue, she may well abstain.
The church also addressed this in its statement, saying: “With reference to any proposal to redefine marriage, our long-standing position is that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman.
“This definition, which is held by the vast majority of countries worldwide, serves society well and is in line with historic mainstream and orthodox Christian teaching.”
In February, a bid in Stormont to change the law to permit abortions in the case of rape was rejected by 64 votes to 30
In cases where the child is suffering from fatal abnormalities which would mean it would die outside the womb, the proposal was rejected 59 to 40.
It followed an extremely emotion debate – with particularly passionate input from the Alliance’s Trevor Lunn.
Both of the failed proposals had been put forward by the Alliance Party in the form of amendments to the Justice (No 2) Bill.