Friday 3 October 2008

Department of health in Northern Ireland seeks to promote abortion access in defiance of the law

In July, Northern Ireland's Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety issued a consultation paper on abortion. It begins with: "Within the scope of this Guidance and the law in Northern Ireland, each Health & Social Services Trust must ensure that its patients have access to termination of pregnancy services." At first glance, this seems depressingly par for the course until you reflect on the actual legal situation in the province. You then realise that the text is deeply misleading.

Misinformation from the department of health seeking to promote abortion in Northern Ireland is matched by misinformation from the pro-abortion lobby in the House of Commons who are seeking to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland this month.

Professor John Keown, Rose F Kennedy professor in Christian ethics at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, has lighted on this and he is quoted in the Catholic Lawyers Blog. He writes: "The starting point of the Guidance should have been a clear statement of the illegality of abortion in Northern Ireland: that it is a crime punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment to use any means with intent to procure miscarriage, and an offence to supply means knowing that they are to be used with that intent. The Guidance should then have recalled the central if not sole purpose of this prohibition: the protection of the unborn child, a purpose which has informed the law against abortion for over 700 years."

Professor Keown asks rhetorically: "Would one begin Guidance on the law of theft, which recognises that in exceptional circumstances [person] A may lawfully appropriate [person] B’s property, by saying that 'within the scope of law of theft, the government should ensure that everyone has access to everyone else’s property'?"

Catholic Lawyers Blog is produced by Mrs Johanna Higgins, a barrister, of the Association of Catholic Lawyers in Ireland. The association has produced a briefing paper on the guidance and SPUC has made a submission on it.