Abortion: Government plans to liberalise abortion in NI get landslide approval from the Lords

The government’s proposals to put in place a new liberalised set of abortion regulations for Northern Ireland were given the backing of the House of Lords by a landslide tonight.

By Adam Kula
Monday, 15th June 2020, 9:23 pm
Clockwise: Lord Morrow, Lord McCrea, Lord Empey, and Baroness O'Loan in the Lords on Monday night
Clockwise: Lord Morrow, Lord McCrea, Lord Empey, and Baroness O'Loan in the Lords on Monday night

One of the most hotly-contested issues during the debate was the effect which the new law will have for disabled people – with the Bill’s detractors saying it paves the way for abortion unborn children with even relatively-mild disabilities.

Baroness Nuala O’Loan had tabled an amendment which aimed to thwart the the regulations on the basis that they have been rejected by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

She told the Lords: “Of our 90 MLAs, 75 voted against the provisions for grounds of disability. When the Northern Ireland Office carried out its short consultation, 79% of respondents rejected these proposals.

“In the past few days, over 18,000 people have signed an open letter to Peers and MPs—I sent it to all noble Lords on Friday. They ask that you listen to them, and to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and do not approve these regulations.”

She also raised specific concerns of abortions being carried out on the basis that the child would be born the “wrong sex”, saying: “Identification of sex is available to pregnant mothers between seven and 10 weeks of gestation... These regulations will make abortion up to 12 weeks lawful for any reason – which must include that the foetus is of the wrong sex.”

Lord Reg Empey, speaking via video link, said the whole handling of the regulations had been “outrageous” given that he believes abortion should be the sole preserve of the NI Assembly, not London.

“We have been told repeatedly throughout last year that we couldn’t raise health issues, despite the fact people were dying,” he said.

“We couldn’t raise the RHI heating initiative, because it was a devolved matter.

“And now that we have devolution, it has been set aside!”

DUP chairman Lord Maurice Morrow added his voice to the protests, saying that the only punishment for anyone breaking the new abortion regulations will be “a breathtakingly inadequate fine of up to £5,000”.

Party colleague Lord Willie McCrea said that “every day we have listened to a homily from ministers telling us how important it is to save lives” – but that in 2019 in England and Wales “nearly 210,000 children were lost to abortion”.

He went on to add that the NI regulations are “even more liberal” than those in GB.

“During the pandemic we had the BBC and other media crews permitted into the ICU wards to show the serious reality of what happens when a person is struck down with Covid-19,” he said.

“I wonder will the film crews be allowed into the theatres to show the brutality of how a child is torn from a mother’s womb just because the child has a disability?”

In the end, Baroness O’Loan’s amendment fell by 388 votes to 122, while the government’s plan to proceed with the abortion regulations was passed by 355 votes to 77.

Responding for the government, Viscount Younger of Leckie said that “the government would never act to discriminate on the basis of disability” adding that when it came to Baroness O’Loan’s point about sex selection “in Northern Ireland under the NHS, scans that detect the sex of the foetus take place between 18 and 21 weeks’ gestation” – not seven to 10 as she had stated.

He concluded: “These regulations, can I say, are ultimately about the rights of women and girls, and them being able to access medical treatment in distressing and difficult circumstances, where they have a right to choose what is right for them – and we should act in a way to support them in these cases.”

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