Abortion dominated the last parliamentary session at Stormont and it will be a key issue in this new one.
There will be intense pressure on MLAs to change the current law in favour of a more liberalised approach.
Sadly, a number of professional bodies support moves to make it easier to access abortion. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) this month updated their position statement on abortion. In both its content and its tone, it is a highly disturbing document.
It says that the RCM supports the campaign launched by BPAS this year to remove any mention of abortion from criminal law. This is an extraordinarily radical position for the RCM to take. If the campaign is ever successful, it will put pressure on MLAs to adopt laws in Northern Ireland beyond even the 1967 Abortion Act.
In effect, what the RCM want is abortion, fully on demand. The official position of this professional body seems to be one where abortion is to have no limitations put on it whatsoever. While their new statement does say the rights of midwives or maternity support workers to hold a position of conscientious objection, as described in the 1967 Act, should be recognised, it goes on to argue should only apply to direct involvement in the procedure of terminating pregnancy.
Effectively what the RCM is seeking is a narrowing of the grounds upon which midwives can conscientiously object.
I think pro-life midwives who are part of the RCM will feel incredibly isolated by this newly updated statement. They want to be part of the RCM because of the benefits it brings. But this new statement leaves no room for flexibility at all.
This is wholly unfair and given the fact the RCM will have members who have a range of religious and moral views on abortion, they have a duty to all their members to support both those who are happy with this statement and those who are not in favour of abortion. I think it is disgraceful that the RCM are taking such a polarising position on abortion and putting pro-life midwives in an incredibly uncomfortable position.
Sadly, the updated statement from the RCM reflects a truly disturbing, but increasingly common outlook in which the value of an unborn baby is precisely what value the mother attributes to it. This new statement reveals the RCM attaches no objective value to an unborn baby. Morally and ethically, I think this is questionable at best.
A human foetus is not just a collection of cells, but a living person. We know, for example, that at conception a new strand of DNA forms creating a new and unique individual. In the Christian worldview, we do not force any disconnect between the born baby and the unborn baby. Both are human beings and both are intrinsically valuable.
Many midwives do a fantastic job. They have to make snap decisions sometimes in difficult circumstances. Lives have been saved because of their professional excellence and skills levels. But the RCM is completely out of line in adopting such a radical statement.
It is a clear reminder of the pressure MLAs are going to come under from a range of lobbyists to make drastic changes to the law. I would urge MLAs, both those re-elected and those who are new to resist this pressure. As for those midwives who do object to abortion, you can only feel sympathy for them that the RCM are taking such an extreme and morally dubious position.
Nola Leach is chief executive, CARE in NI