Pro-lifers lament High Court ruling on abortion in N Ireland

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff


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Belfast, Northern Ireland, Feb 9, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A pro-life group said that a High Court ruling on Tuesday indicates that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland could block future attempts to restrict abortion in the region.

A judge dismissed a challenge on Feb. 8 brought by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) to a directive to expand abortion services issued by the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

Liam Gibson, SPUC’s policy and legal officer, said that his organization was considering an appeal against the judgment, which declared that the Northern Ireland secretary had “broad, expansive powers” regarding abortion.

“If this judgment is allowed to stand, the Secretary of State can simply block any attempt to restrict abortion or restore the right to life of unborn children,” Gibson said in a Feb. 8 statement.

“Brandon Lewis hasn’t only deprived unborn children of their right to life, he has effectively stripped the people of Northern Ireland of any right to decide what our abortion law should be.”

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland leads the Northern Ireland Office, a U.K. government department responsible for Northern Ireland affairs with headquarters in both Belfast and London.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but abortion law was previously considered a devolved issue under the control of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

But following the suspension of the regional government, the British parliament in October 2019 decriminalized abortion in Northern Ireland and obliged the U.K. government to create legal access to abortion in the region.

The Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the High Court sits. Dignity 100/Shutterstock.
The Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the High Court sits. Dignity 100/Shutterstock.

Before March 31, 2020, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life was at risk or if there was risk of long-term or permanent, serious damage to mental or physical health.

Northern Ireland’s abortion law now allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions up to 24 weeks are legal when the mother’s physical or mental health is determined to be at risk. Abortions up until the point of birth are legal in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal abnormality.

In March 2021, the U.K. government signaled its intention to unveil new regulations enabling Lewis to direct the Northern Ireland Department of Health to commission more widespread abortion services — prompting criticism from the region’s Catholic bishops.

It set out the measures in a statutory instrument known as the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021.

In July 2021, Brandon Lewis issued the Abortion Services Directions 2021, setting a deadline of March 31, 2022, for the commissioning of expanded abortion services.

SPUC took Lewis to court, arguing that he had exceeded his authority. But the High Court in Belfast dismissed all grounds of challenge.

Writing on his Twitter account on Feb. 8, Lewis welcomed the ruling.

“I am pleased that today’s high court judgment has recognised that the UK Government acted lawfully in protecting the rights of women & girls. Women & girls have a right to access full abortion services in NI & I will now consider all options to ensure these are available,” he wrote.

Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).
Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

SPUC’s Liam Gibson said: “Not only will Mr. Lewis’s direction condemn to death an untold number of unborn babies, but it is also a gross abuse of political power.”

“The Northern Ireland Office’s high-handed attitude may have already inflicted a fatal blow on the devolution settlement.”

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