Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on abortion: ‘Unborn child has no human rights’

Les Allamby said criticism of the NIHRC by the Evangelical Alliance 'was neither accurate nor fair'
Les Allamby said criticism of the NIHRC by the Evangelical Alliance 'was neither accurate nor fair'
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The Human Rights Commission has hit back at criticism from the Evangelical Alliance over pending abortion legislation, affirming that ‘the unborn child has no free-standing human rights’.

The commission cited the Supreme Court and common law after the faith group claimed it does not believe “the unborn child” is entitled to any human rights.

Under changes voted through recently by MPs, abortion will be decriminalised in NI if the Stormont Executive does not re-form by October 21. At present abortion in NI is only lawful where a woman’s health is seriously at risk.

David Smyth of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) said official figures from England and Wales last year show 98% of abortions involved “physically healthy women aborting physically healthy babies”.

Similarly, he claimed, there will be no explicit safeguards in NI to prevent abortions on grounds of disability or unwanted gender and that most will happen “because a human child is unwanted”.

Yet the commission is raising no concern, he said, because “it does not believe that the unborn child is entitled to any protection before birth under human rights law”.

But Les Allamby, chief commissioner of the NI Human Rights Commission, responded that the analysis and criticism “was neither accurate nor fair”.

The only change, he said, will be that it is “no longer possible to take criminal prosecutions against, for example, women and clinicians”.

Other regulations will remain in place, he said, including clinicians’ professional duties, “other criminal offences” and Department of Health guidance.

He noted that the UK Supreme Court found that NI abortion law is contrary to a woman’s right to personal and bodily autonomy.

Under common law, he said, it found that “the foetus or unborn child, while having some statutory protection, has no free-standing human right, rather such rights are inextricably linked to the rights of the woman”.

From March 31, he said, NI law will meet the recommendations of an inquiry into NI abortion law by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“This concluded that current NI law has led to systematic violations of human rights against women who are compelled to travel to undergo legal abortions, self-administer pills or carry a pregnancy to full term.”

The UN inquiry recommended access to abortion, he said, where there is a serious threat to a woman’s health, in cases of rape and incest and for “severe foetal impairment”.

He added: “The picture painted by the Evangelical Alliance ranges far beyond what the recent legislation in Westminster requires.”

Mr Smyth responded: “The commission has still failed to answer the key question – whether it advocates any human rights protection for a child before it is born.”