Monday 19 October 2009

Unborn children in Northern Ireland are facing grave danger

Statistically an unborn baby in Northern Ireland is safer than anywhere else in the UK. The success of the pro-life movement in preventing the extension of the Abortion Act has meant that the law in Northern Ireland still safeguards the lives of unborn children as well as protecting women from the terrible damage which abortion can cause.

However, recently issued guidance from the Northern Ireland health department now threatens to make abortion in the Province more easily available. This guidance gives so much prominence to possible defences to a criminal charge that they appear to represent the law on abortion. In turn, abortion is presented as a “service” to which patients must have access rather than a tightly controlled exception to a criminal prohibition.

Health department guidance is very important since it is the basis on which clinical decisions are made. SPUC believes the current guidance undermines the law, creates a serious threat to unborn children, to the safety of women and to the rights of medical professionals.

The lives of unborn children in Northern Ireland are at stake— we must act before it’s too late

The health committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly has expressed concern that the guidance makes no mention “of the rights of the unborn baby” and has argued that “it must be made clear that all those involved, including health care professionals and counsellors need to take the rights of the child into consideration.”

The guidance presents abortion as a legitimate treatment for protecting mental health—over 98 percent of induced abortions in Britain are undertaken supposedly because of a risk to the mental or physical health of women— ignoring a mountain of evidence that abortion is a cause of mental ill-health. Research shows that women who abort have a suicide rate six to seven times higher than those who give birth to their children, while teenagers are five times more likely to seek subsequent help for psychological and emotional problems compared to those who carry ‘unwanted’ pregnancies to term.

The guidance also states that medical personnel have “no legal right to refuse to take part in the termination of pregnancy” and obliges general practitioners who declare a conscientious objection to abortion to “have in place arrangements with [another healthcare professional]... to whom the woman can be referred.” 

Abortion lobby determined to strip away rights of the unborn

In the past the pro-abortion lobby has focused on liberalising the law in Northern Ireland. It was robust opposition from the Northern Ireland Assembly to Diane Abbot’s attempt to extend the Abortion Act which helped to persuade Gordon Brown to cut short the debate on abortion during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act last October.

During the passage of the first HFE Act in 1990 an amendment to extend the Abortion Act was comfortably defeated due to the strength of public opposition in Northern Ireland.

Recommendations from human rights committees to introduce a new law have also been rejected by successive governments for the same reason. Having failed in numerous attempts to have the Abortion Act introduced the Family Planning Association brought a court action seeking guidance on when abortion was legally available in Northern Ireland in the same way Debbie Purdy brought her case asking for guidelines on assisted suicide.

The courts have proved to be influential in liberalising abortion in many countries, the US and France for example. In December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights will consider a case, brought with the help of the Irish FPA, which is intended to have Ireland’s protection for children before birth overturned on the grounds that it breaches the human rights of women seeking abortion. SPUC has intervened in the case since the implications are so grave.

Pro-life concerns ignored

In Northern Ireland abortion is still a criminal offence not a medical service. The health department has largely ignored the concerns of the pro-life movement by refusing to fundamentally amend the guidance.

Despite a public petition with 21,000 names rejecting the original draft of the guidance, a motion against it in the Assembly in 2007, and a recommendation from the health committee to incorporate explicit protection for the child, the health department has refused to introduce the fundamental changes needed to do this.

So far lobbying by the public, politicians (from across the divide) and the united efforts of the pro-life movement have achieved only modest changes.

All we can do now to ensure that existing legal protection for women and children is accurately reflected by the guidance is pursue the legal option. It’s our last resort.

Legal action could be the last hope for our babies; we need your help to fight this critical battle

The hearing of our application for a Judicial Review of the abortion guidance is scheduled to be held in the High Court in Belfast on 27th-28th October. Our lawyers have estimated that the challenge is likely to incur legal costs running into many thousands of pounds.

On 26th October 2009, Aaron Doherty from Portstewart in Northern Ireland will take part in the Dublin Marathon in a bid to raise funds to fight our case.

Aaron is a member of SPUC’s national executive committee and has been giving pro-life talks in schools for almost 20 years. Like many of you, his tireless efforts represent an indispensable part of SPUC’s campaign—delivering copies of the Pro-life Times, distributing the Society’s literature and being a voice for the unborn in everyday life. These activities are every bit as vital in saving lives as the legal battles we engage in.

And, just as we rely upon an army of dedicated individuals to help get the our message across, so we are also dependant on everyone who gathers sponsorships and collects donations when we need to defend the rights of the vulnerable in the law courts.

Please consider what you can to help SPUC’s  Judicial Review fund today and help protect our babies before it’s too late. You can do this by:
The liberalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland would seriously damage the prospects of protecting unborn children in the Republic of Ireland too, so please pray for the success of our case. May God bless you for all the good you do to help unborn babies.

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