IF THE devolved Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is not restored by October 21, the UK government may force the province to bring its laws on abortion and same-sex unions into line with legislation in the rest of the UK.
This week parliament voted 332-99 on Labour MP Stella Creasy’s amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland. British MPs also voted 383-73 in favour of an amendment by Labour MP Conor McGinn to legalise homosexual marriage in the region.
Abortion is allowed in the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks but is illegal in Northern Ireland, allowed “only when the mother’s life is at risk” or if there is risk of “permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.”
With MPs approving the bill’s amendments the British government is now “obliged” to pass laws legalising abortion and gay marriage if the Northern Ireland Office does not call a Stormont election before October 21.
After the vote, Creasy tweeted:
Thank you to everyone who today stood up for equality in Northern Ireland – whether for same-sex marriage or abortion, today we have said everyone in the UK deserves to be treated as an equal. There’s a road to go yet but today a big step forward.
Both votes were also hailed by rights groups. Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland director, Patrick Corrigan, said the equal marriage decision was “a day for the history books”. Marie Stopes UK, which campaigns on access to abortion, said the Creasy amendment marked “a historic day for women’s rights”.
Both the abortion amendment and the gay marriage amendment include the condition that if Westminster passes such laws, a future Northern Ireland Assembly could overturn or amend them.
Clare McCarthy, above, of Right To Life UK condemned Tuesday’s Westminster vote as:
An unconstitutional and disrespectful attempt to override devolution in Northern Ireland and to attempt to impose abortion on demand on the Northern Irish people. It is totally constitutionally inappropriate to bring forward abortion amendments to a Bill which has nothing to do with abortion in any way, to legislate on such a sensitive matter.
The law on this issue should be a decision for the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives, not for MPs in Westminster to decide.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor strongly condemned the abortion amendment last weekend. They urged Catholics and “pro-life” citizens to contact members of Parliament to object to the amendments before Tuesday’s vote.
There is something particularly cynical … in taking advantage of the present political crisis to remove the right to life of the most vulnerable of our people; the unborn baby. The common good cannot be served in this way.
Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds denounced the decision by Labour to add amendments to the bill as “deeply unhelpful” to the talks at Stormont, and said it was wrong for MPs at Westminster to try to take control of such issues in Northern Ireland.