Some see abortion move as England forcing its values upon NI: MP

Anti-abortion protesters outside the recently-opened Marie Stopes private clinic in Belfast in October 2012
Anti-abortion protesters outside the recently-opened Marie Stopes private clinic in Belfast in October 2012

Pro-life figures have hit out after the Tory government unveiled details of how it intends to cater for Northern Irish women having publicly-funded abortions in England.

The government said a single hotline for booking abortion appointments for Northern Irish women will be set up by the end of the year, and made clear that certain women who opt to get terminations will have their travel costs paid for, as well as the procedure itself.

Anti-abortion protesters outside the new Marie Stopes private  clinic in Belfast city centre in October 2012

Anti-abortion protesters outside the new Marie Stopes private clinic in Belfast city centre in October 2012

Campaign group Right to Life dubbed it an “anti-democratic disgrace”, whilst Christian Action, Research and Education said the government “should not overstretch its reach – it does not have a mandate to intervene in Northern Ireland”.

Meanwhile, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said many people will see it as a the Tory Party trying to “force particular moral values from England on Northern Ireland” – though he added he was “not suggesting this was the case” himself.

Despite its pact with the pro-life DUP, the government had revealed a plan to fully subsidise abortions for Northern Irish women who travel to England back in June, and Monday’s announcement saw it make clear some of the details of the proposals.

It came ahead of a major court hearing on Tuesday in London, which centres on the Human Rights Commission’s argument that the Province’s stricter abortion rules clash with human rights law.

Speaking of the fresh details of the plan to subsidise Northern Irish women having abortions in England, Gregory Campbell said pro-life campaigners “would probably strongly contend that this is an attempt to try and add pressure to get the ‘67 Act implemented in Northern Ireland”.

The 1967 Abortion Act – which became law 50 years ago this Friday – liberalised the law in the UK, but does not apply to Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Campbell went on to say: “I’m not saying that I would particularly see it like that, but there’d be many who would.” He suggested time will tell if that is the case.

At the time of the DUP-Tory pact he said media coverage “insinuated the Conservatives need to be careful because the DUP could be trying to force ‘our moral values’, as they described them, on Conservatives in England”.

He added: “Our response to that was we weren’t trying to do that.

“And we just hoped the reverse wouldn’t be the case – there wouldn’t be someone in Great Britain in the Conservative Party trying to force particular moral values from England on Northern Ireland.

“Now, I’m not suggesting this is the case.

“But there will be many who will look at it like that.”

He added the issue of abortion will not strain the relationship between then DUP and Tories, because the confidence-and-supply arrangement between the two “didn’t include issues like abortion”.

On June 29, the government said it will subsidise the cost of abortions for Northern Irish women in England.

Few details were provided at the time. Now, in a written update to Parliament, the minister for women Justine Greening (who is also secretary of state for education) said Northern Irish women could avail of “support with travel costs if the woman meets financial hardship criteria”.

She also said the government is “establishing a central booking service” with a single telephone number, which will be set up before the end of the year.

Peter Williams, executive officer with England-based group Right to Life said: “This is an utterly unjustifiable interference in a matter that is the sole purview of the Stormont Assembly and Executive, and undermines the already sensitive situation of Northern Irish devolution...

“It is also occurring without any Parliamentary scrutiny in Westminster or public consultation.”

Nola Leach, CEO of Christian Action Research and Education (also based in England), said: “The offer of funding for a free abortion in another country is short-sighted as it neglects any mention of an offer of counselling or care for the woman.”

Ms Greening’s statement added: “In the meantime women from Northern Ireland will continue to make their own arrangements with the providers, but will not be charged.

“My original statement was clear this does not change the position in relation to the provision of abortions in Northern Ireland, which is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court in London will hear a case being brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which centres on abortion in cases of rape, incest, and fatal foetal anomaly.

It argues that the Province’s existing law is “incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights in the way it restricts abortions in such circumstances.