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David Steel: ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘ridiculous’ that Northern Ireland still protects unborn children

26 April 2016

Lord Steel has attacked lawmakers in Northern Ireland for defending unborn children

The former MP responsible for the 1967 Abortion Act has lashed out at the state of the law in Northern Ireland, branding it “simply ridiculous” and “absolutely extraordinary” that abortion is not widely available there.

Lord David Steel also claimed that British politicians look down on MPs and peers from Northern Ireland because of the pro-life stance lawmakers have taken there.

The Liberal Democrat peer’s remarks come just before the 48th anniversary of the Abortion Act coming into force, which will be marked tomorrow (27 April), and the Northern Irish Assembly elections which will take place on 5 May.

"Simply ridiculous"

Lord Steel insisted that politicians were discriminating against women by not changing the law in Northern Ireland, despite evidence showing that women are more likely than men to support restrictions on abortion.

He told the BBC: "I think they've got to face up to the fact the law in Northern Ireland is simply ridiculous. 1861 ... it is time they came up at least to 1967, if not to 2016."

It is not entirely clear why Lord Steel believes the date that legislation was passed is relevant here, unless he is arguing that no good laws were passed before the twentieth century. For reference, the Act of Parliament abolishing slavery was passed in 1833.

"Just incredible"

While Lord Steel acknowledges that it will always remain a controversial subject, he said it was shocking that Northern Ireland refused to change the law.

"I find it absolutely extraordinary that Northern Ireland doesn't, even in a small way, attempt to catch up with where we were in 1967," he said. "Fifty years later is just incredible."

"I think politicians [in the House of Commons and the House of Lords] look slightly askance at those from Northern Ireland, and say: 'How can you possibly represent human rights in that territory if you allow your colleagues in Northern Ireland to constantly turn their backs on a sensible law?'"

"Statistically an unborn baby in Northern Ireland is safer than anywhere else in the UK"

Although offensive to many who respect the strong pro-life stance many Northern Irish lawmakers have taken, Lord Steel’s remarks are nonetheless a backhanded compliment to the tireless lobbying and campaigning of many pro-life groups, including SPUC, which have helped to steer Northern Ireland away from liberal abortion.

John Smeaton, SPUC’s Chief Executive, noted this, saying:

"Statistically an unborn baby in Northern Ireland is safer than anywhere else in the UK. SPUC's success, in union with our sister pro-life groups in Northern Ireland, in preventing the extension of the Abortion Act has meant that the law in Northern Ireland still provides a safeguard for the lives of unborn children as well as protecting women from the terrible damage which abortion can cause."

Voters go to the polls on 5 May to elect MLAs to the Stormont Assembly

Increasing hostility

In recent months, the political atmosphere in Northern Ireland has been growing increasingly hostile to children before birth and there has been a renewed media focus on trying to weaken abortion law in Northern Ireland.

In a shocking decision last November, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission convinced the High Court that the current law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. In February, pro-abortion MLAs (Sinn Fein, Alliance and some Ulster Unionists) tried and failed to introduce legislation which would have led to widespread abortion.

And in recent weeks, abortion advocates have used the case of a woman from south Belfast who aborted her baby with drugs she bought online to pressure public authorities into ignoring DIY abortions. The woman’s housemates have spoken out after being vilified online to explain why they called the police.

Vote for life

Now many pro-abortion groups are targeting next month's elections as a clear opportunity to put pressure on politicians and change the law.

Liam Gibson, SPUC’s Northern Ireland Development Officer, asked all pro-life supporters in Northern Ireland to cast their vote for life in the upcoming election:

"It is no exaggeration to say that, in terms of the right to life of unborn children, this year's election is probably the most important there has been since the Assembly was established. How you cast your vote could help to decide whether our unborn children will continue to be protected or if abortion will be introduced to Northern Ireland.

"The political atmosphere in Northern Ireland is growing increasingly hostile to children before birth. In the last six months alone the attacks on the rights of unborn babies have been on an unprecedented level."

Serious concerns

Mr Gibson continued:

"A group of civil servants currently examining the issue of legalising abortion for babies diagnosed before birth with a terminal illness will deliver a report to the health minister later this year. There are very serious concerns over the membership of this group. If, as seems likely, it recommends a change in the law then it will be crucial that there is a majority of solidly pro-life Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) committed to defending the lives of all children.

"Sadly both the Sinn Fein and the Alliance parties are now solidly pro-abortion, as are an increasing number of the Ulster Unionists.

"Next year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the (British) Abortion Act 1967. In that time at least 8,400,000 babies in Britain have been killed before they could be born. Until now Northern Ireland has rejected every attempt to introduce similar legislation. The MLAs of the next Assembly will decide whether this continues to be the case.

Vote for pro-life candidates

"Election time is the only occasion when politicians can't ignore what the people have to say. Please encourage your friends and families to vote only for candidates committed to protecting ALL unborn children, regardless of their disabilities or circumstances of conception.

"If you cannot find a candidate you wish to vote for, then mark your ballot with a pro-life slogan, such as 'Pro-Life Republican' or 'Pro-Life Alliance'. Candidates will be shown spoilt ballots and will see the message.

"Finally, on 5 May, please use your vote to speak up for those children who have no voice of their own."

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