Abortion and the Northern Ireland Assembly Election

Written by Marion Woods, Life NI. Originally published on Engage 17.

Thursday March 2 2017 will see the people of Northern Ireland return to the polls earlier than the expected 2021 election date. This election will produce a smaller legislative assembly to be returned to Stormont with 90 MLA seats available to the election candidates.

This election also comes at a time when Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are continuing to be challenged. The reality of this is that we are facing a very important election for those of us who want to ensure that the abortion laws in NI are not liberalised in any way.

2017 also sees the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Act in England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland chose not to enact the 1967 Act and, as a recent report by Both Lives Matter revealed in January of this year, an estimated 100,000 lives have been saved in NI as a result. At the same time the 1967 Act has resulted in over 8 million abortions in England and Wales. Abortions are also taking place in England and Wales for reasons of disability, for example 9 out of 10 women who are told that their unborn child will be born with Down Syndrome choose to end their pregnancy – that’s 90% of these cases. There are also records of abortions taking place because a woman is told her baby will be born with club foot or cleft palate, all minor conditions which are easily adjusted post-birth. Abortion for reasons of disability can take place in England and Wales right up to birth. Many people don’t realise this! Why? Well quite simply it was never intended to be that way. So how has it happened? Quite frankly, it happened gradually. Once abortion was permitted in 1967 for severe disability it became easier for that law to be widened and for us to witness what is allowed to happen now – 98% of abortions are carried out for what is termed “social reasons”.

What has this got to do with Northern Ireland?  We don’t have the 1967 Act.

In NI we don’t have the 1967 Act at the minute. However, there are currently many campaigns which seek to change our current law on abortion, some of these campaigns would see legislation introduced like the 1967 Act, others would see abortion put solely in the remit of healthcare allowing for a system such as that of Canada with abortion being permitted for any reason up to any stage of pregnancy including just before birth. Some of these campaigns are being orchestrated by organisations outside of NI, such as BPAS in England, other campaigns are driven by some of our previous assembly members or the political parties and some of the campaigns are being pushed by lobby groups working within NI.

Many of these campaigns are built on the premise that abortion is a compassionate solution for women to an unwanted pregnancy or to a crisis pregnancy, including the traumatic situation when a woman is told that her unborn child has a life-limiting condition. But is this truly the case? Is abortion ever a compassionate response? Surely support, help, counselling and carefully considered pathways of care in pregnancy should be society’s way of showing compassion to a woman and empowering her to continue with her pregnancy in spite of the circumstances.

Organisations such as Life NI, a pregnancy care service provider working in NI for over 36 years, provides  pregnancy care, support and practical help to women and families including, counselling, housing, practical help and assistance, regardless of the circumstances of the pregnancy.

We believe that our current law in NI holds in a delicate balance the right to life of the mother and the right to life of the unborn child. We know scientifically that human life begins at fertilisation. Click To Tweet We can see from ultrasound images the gestational development of the unborn child and know that from 10-12 weeks the unborn child is fully formed and will spend the next 28 weeks growing in utero. We are witnessing a progression in medical science which sees premature babies surviving from as early as 23+ weeks gestation. We are seeing more research being carried out regarding the negative impact that abortion has on women and families. We are being told by those in the medical field that when women feel supported the majority of them choose to continue with their pregnancy no matter the circumstances surrounding that pregnancy. With all this in mind we have a responsibility and a duty to ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in. Will it be one that values life pre and post birth no matter the circumstances?

With the election fast approaching and canvassing already commenced it is important to ask those who knock on your door what they are going to do to protect our pro-life laws in NI. How are they going to stand up and defend the rights of the unborn child? What will they do to support both the mother and the unborn child because both lives matter? Will they focus on providing help and support within our societal structures to empower women to continue their pregnancy and to assist families who may feel that they are struggling. All of these are important questions. All of these are questions which the canvassers at your door have a duty to answer. We want Northern Ireland to continue to be a place that protects the most vulnerable in society and enables and promotes a culture which values life.

Ask the questions, read the manifestos, know your candidates and above all vote wisely.

Here is the link to the original blog post on Engage 17.

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