The anti-abortion group Precious Life has described Lord David Steel’s latest attack on Northern Ireland’s abortion laws as supporting “lethal discrimination against defenceless unborn babies”.
Lord Steel, the Lib Dem peer, who introduced the GB liberal abortion laws in 1967, said yesterday that the province should at least plug into the 1967 legislation which allowed legalised abortions to be performed by the NHS until 28 weeks (reduced to 24 weeks in 1990).
The thrust of the Province’s legislation is to protect women whose lives are at risk, or there is in serious, permanent risk to her mental of physical health. Lord Steel, though, has pointed out that the Abortion Act in GB, which he championed, was designed to effect an overhaul of “the Victorian legislation”.
In his latest statement, he seized on the 1861 era, on which the current Northern Ireland legislation is based – “1861… is it time that Northern Ireland moved on at least until 1967, of not 2016?” he asked.
“The law in Northern Ireland is simply ridiculous. By not changing the law, the politicians in Northern Ireland are discriminating against women. I find it absolutely extraordinary that they don’t, even in a small way, try to catch up where we were in 1967.”
But his latest statements have been vehemently opposed by the Precious Life Group and by the former Northern Ireland Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, who quit the British Medical Association’s (BMA) ethics body in 2014 over its stance on abortion.
Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life said, ““The Northern Ireland Assembly has full legislative and executive authority for all matters, including criminal justice. Abortion is a matter of criminal justice, which is administered by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“Lord David Steel needs to face the reality that abortion is lethal discrimination against vulnerable and defenceless unborn children. Because of the Abortion Act 1967, Britain continues to lag behind Northern Ireland’s glowing standards of maternal health.
“According to a 2013 research paper by Byron Calhoun, John Thorp and Patrick Carroll, Northern Ireland is one of the safest places for pregnant women and their babies.
“Over the 40 years of legalised abortion in Britain under the Abortion Act 1967, there has been a consistent pattern in which higher abortion rates have run parallel to higher incidences of stillbirths, premature births, low birth-weight, cerebral palsy, and maternal deaths as direct consequences of abortion.
“Because of our pro-life laws, women and babies are safer in Northern Ireland. David Steel should be taking direction from our MLAs who have the best interests of women and their children at heart.”
Meanwhile, Baroness O’Loan said it wasn’t a matter of treating women differently, “but a matter of each individual society deciding what it wants to do.”
She added, “There is no issue of human rights in abortion. The European Court of Human Rights has said it is for countries to determine whether they wish to legalise to provide for abortion.
“Some countries have and some haven’t, and I believe abortion is wrong.”
The anti-abortion charity, Life NI, is in tune with Precious Life and Baroness O’Loan and states there is no need to redefine the boundaries of Northern Ireland’s abortion law.