Pro-life group warns Brandon Lewis of pending judicial review over his plans to impose UN abortion recommendations on NI
A Pro-life group says it has sent notice to the Secretary of State that it intends to pursue a judicial review over his attempts to impose UN recommendations on abortion on Northern Ireland.
In a Pre Action Protocol sent to the UK Government, the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform NI (CBR NI) claim that the current regulations are legally outside the powers of the Secretary of State as they enable him to override the devolution settlement for NI, assuming powers to give orders to any minister, department or health body on abortion.
New regulations around abortion came into operation in NI a year ago but as services have not yet been formally commissioned some women are reportedly still travelling to GB for abortions.
As the Executive is apparently divided on rolling out full services, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis last month laid regulations in Parliament that will give him the power to direct any NI minister or department to roll out abortion services in line with UN recommendations specifically made for NI.
Pastor Clive Johnston of CBR NI said: “Our position on abortion is clear. This action, however, goes far beyond that and is, in fact, an attempt to ensure that our devolved institutions have the ability to legislate on issues of significant public concern in line with the wishes of the people they represent.
“The UK Government’s actions since the summer of 2019 have effectively destroyed the concept of devolution and have set a dangerous precedent for the future. It creates a blueprint for Westminster to strip Stormont of all powers on areas where Northern Ireland differs from England.
“We are calling on the Secretary of State to withdraw The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 and for the UK Government to repeal Section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019.”
Soon after MPs intervened to relax NI’s abortion legislation the NI Assembly narrowly rejected the move in a non-binding vote.”
Pro-choice groups have lobbied Mr Lewis to carry through full commissioning of abortion services in NI, stating that the the human rights of women in Northern Ireland were being denied by the lack of full abortion provision.
However all unionist political parties and the Presbyterian Church and Church of Ireland have warned the move seriously undermines devolution.
The regulations laid by Mr Lewis at Westminster commit him to implement all recommendations from the UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women’s) on abortion provision in Northern Ireland.
The CEDAW recommendations also include recommendations for compulsory sex education in Northern Ireland.
It recommends that NI makes “age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights a compulsory component of curriculum for adolescents, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion, and monitor its implementation”.
CBR says that Paragraph 86 of CEDAW requires “wide ranging societal changes including the promotion of abortion in schools, signposting to abortion within the community and the criminalisation of people offering financial, physical and emotional support at abortion clinics”.
The CEDAW recommendations require government to “Intensify awareness-raising campaigns” on abortion services and contraception.
They also require that NI adopts “a strategy to combat gender-based stereotypes regarding women’s primary role as mothers”.
The Northern Ireland Office and Alliance for Choice have been invited to comment.
Pro-choice activist Goretti Horgan said: “CBRNI have every right to their religious beliefs and to practice their beliefs. However, they must recognise that they don’t have a right to impose those beliefs on others. The separation of church and state is a basic democratic principle.”
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