Despite strong pressure to liberalize its abortion laws, the country of Northern Ireland continues its decades-long legacy of protecting the rights of the unborn.
Last month, the pro-life Both Lives Matter organization marched on Parliament to celebrate the estimated 100,000 lives that have been saved by Northern Ireland’s pro-life protections. Ten women carried boxes which represented 10,000 people who had been born because of the existence of Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws. “These people are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons,” said Dawn McEvoy, co-founder of the group. “Abortion pressure groups have no mandate from us the people of Northern Ireland to impose abortion on Northern Ireland from Westminster. We urge the British Government to respect the people of Northern Ireland and our elected representatives.”
— Both Lives Matter (@BothLivesMatter) February 28, 2019
The abortion pressure groups come from the south of the country, as last year the Republic of Ireland repealed the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution which defended the rights of the unborn, and signed the first abortion bills into law. Pressure also comes from groups in other parts of the United Kingdom, where abortion has been legal since 1967. Emboldened by their success in the south, pro-abortion groups have clamored for Westminster to enact pro-abortion policies in the country. Currently abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except if a woman’s life is at risk, and measures to loosen abortion laws through legislation or referendum have failed, by a wide margin, as recently as 2016.
On March 9th, Northern Irish women marched with suitcases outside of Parliament to protest having to travel to obtain an abortion in other parts of the UK. With protests and demonstrations, pro-abortion groups are laying the groundwork for future legislation once the Assembly, the local government of Northern Ireland, returns. The Northern Irish Assembly collapsed in 2017 due to a falling out between the two major ruling parties. While Westminster is in charge of certain non-devolved issues such as foreign affairs and defense, acting on an issue such as abortion, what was specifically enumerated as an issue for the Assembly to decide, would undermine Northern Irish self-rule. In February, the Secretary of State to Northern Ireland confirmed that Westminster has no authority to change Northern Ireland’s laws without the Assembly.
In the meantime, pro-abortion groups are also attacking pro-life laws through the courts, because the Supreme Court has the authority to strike down Acts of Assembly if they are deemed contrary to human rights. In January, Supreme Court judges said that the Northern Irish restrictions on abortion are against human rights, even though that suit was thrown out on technical grounds. Another suit is currently before the High Court, which makes messages like the one brought by Both Lives Matter more important than ever in Northern Ireland’s current political landscape.
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