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Northern Ireland’s chief legal advisor says Britain’s Sec. of State for Northern Ireland “exceeded his powers” in introducing abortion regulations

by | Apr 27, 2020

By Dave Andrusko

Talk about vindication!

Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin

Pro-lifers in Northern Ireland blasted the proposed abortion “regulations” on any number of grounds, besides the two obvious facts  that Northern Ireland is a very pro-life nation and that the abortion “regulations” are far more wide-open than the official line would have the public believe.

They bashed the lack of consultation. They hammered home the point that under the principle of “devolution,” the British Parliament should not have stepped in last year and overturned the region’s protective 158-year-old abortion laws. And, they lamented that conscience protections—“Regulation 12”—were exceedingly limited for pro-life medical practitioners .

Lo and behold, read these lead paragraphs from the very, very pro-abortion Irish Times.  Referring to Brandon Lewis, the British Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland,  we read that Lewis

exceeded his powers in introducing abortion regulations, Stormont’s chief legal adviser has said.

It is doubtful whether the legislation gives adequate European Convention on Human Rights-based protection to the rights of those opposed on religious or philosophical grounds, attorney general John Larkin QC added.

The lawyer wrote: “This is of political and legal significance and, given that the relevant judgment call is best made by a local legislature, it may be inappropriate for the provision to have been so limited in light of the changed political context.”

The Irish Times then innocuously added, “A major change liberalising access to terminations in the region was introduced in March.” Indeed. 

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis
Photo: Richard Townshend
Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Ostensibly a “limited” change, in fact abortion on demand is legal up to 24 weeks “where there is a risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl,” as wide-open an exceptions clause as you could imagine. The Irish Times also acknowledges, “Abortion will also be available in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies, with no gestational limit” (emphasis added).

Back to Attorney General Larkin,  who wrote, “Providing for broader conscience protection in regulation 12 would have been possible and would have assisted with Convention [on Human Rights] compliance by health and social care trusts.”

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan was much harsher in her submission to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of peers, saying the regulations contained “grave flaws.” According to the Irish Times

She wrote: “It is both deeply controversial in Northern Ireland because of its implications for people, doctors, nurses and midwives, and because it is my submission that the Secretary of State has acted beyond his competence and the regulations ‘imperfectly achieve the policy objective’.

“It was also preceded by a flawed consultation process.”

Regulation 12 provides limited legal protection for medical practitioners who object to abortion.

Baroness O’Loan added: “It is my further contention that regulation 12 discriminates against individuals on the grounds of their religious belief or political opinion.”

She said the narrow definition given to the term ‘treatment’ in the regulation led to direct discrimination against individuals who on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion conscientiously objected to abortion.

She added the consultation which led to the regulations was “deeply flawed” since it only lasted for six weeks and was conducted during a General Election.

“Legislating for abortion and freedom of conscience is a devolved matter.

As NRL News Today wrote last year, the British Government took advantage of the collapse of the coalition governing Northern Ireland. However, as Baroness O’Loan astutely observed.

“Even were one to accept that the absence of a functioning Assembly gave Westminster a moral right to legislate, the fact is that the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored in January, long before the regulations were laid.”

Categories: Ireland
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