It has been four months since abortion was legalised in Northern Ireland.
At the time, as spokeswoman for Life NI, I commented that “we are moving into an interim period where there is little to no firm guidance on the position of conscientious objectors in the medical field, or the future availability of abortion services”.
As I write this, we are no closer to having any of these concerns answered.
No firm guidance has been issued, no definite policies have been brought forward. The government’s consultation on a proposed new abortion framework for Northern Ireland was deeply disturbing, as it blatantly pushed towards abortion on demand, at any time, for any reason. We are still waiting to see the government’s analysis of the consultation responses, and how this will influence the implementation of new legislation on 31st March.
Recently the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) released a joint statement stating that “Northern Ireland has a unique opportunity to establish an abortion care service which is safe, legal and compassionate”. In their estimation, the most compassionate legislation would allow women to access an abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy. The statement went on to advocate for a human rights based, fit for purpose approach to abortion services, in which “abortion should be regulated like any other clinical procedure”.
It is shocking that the joint colleges, who should be protecting and nurturing life, are calling for extreme abortion limits and a sanitised, inaccurate interpretation of abortion as essential healthcare. We know, however, that ending a pregnancy is not like any other clinical procedure. It is inherently destructive, rather than constructive – a life will not be lived as a result. Indeed, the “human-rights based” model being pursued by these groups only caters to the rights of the mother. Nowhere in the statement is there any mention of the human rights of the unborn child.
When we look closer at how a baby develops in the womb, we can clearly see the humanity of the child, its vulnerability and how it needs to be protected.
During the first six weeks of pregnancy, the baby develops quickly. Its heart starts to beat, and arms, legs and a head can be clearly distinguished. By 10 weeks the baby has started moving and kicking, exercising and strengthening its muscles ready for life outside the womb. It develops its own unique set of fingerprints by 12 weeks. At 16 weeks the baby has everything that’s found in a new born baby, such as a heart, kidneys and a stomach. All it needs is time and space to grow. By 20 weeks, the baby can hear everything going on outside the womb, and can recognise its mother’s voice. Babies have been known to survive outside the womb when born as early as 21 weeks, although they needed a lot of specialist care and attention. By 24 weeks, the baby is fully formed, its lungs are maturing so it can breathe air instead of amniotic fluid once it’s born, and it has eyelashes, eyebrows and hair. But it is at this stage where the upper limit is proposed for abortion on demand in Northern Ireland, endorsed by the joint colleges’ statement.
It’s fundamentally important to support women who are experiencing an unexpected or difficult pregnancy. They should be afforded the highest standard of care and be made aware of all the services and help available to them. However, it is just as important to protect their unborn child, especially as they cannot speak or care for themselves.
Every single stage of life, whether it be in the womb or outside of it, is precious. If we are really striving for compassionate care, that compassion should extend both to the mother and her baby, by ensuring that both lives are equally valued and afforded the care and respect that they inherently deserve.