After tragic result in the Republic, abortion lobby sets its sights on Northern Ireland
29 May 2018
Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald, leaders of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and the Republic
Campaigners seek to bypass the devolution settlement to force abortion on NI
Last Friday, the people of Ireland voted by a two thirds majority to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the government to legislate for abortion.
The official result of 66.4%, Yes to 33.6% No was announced to jubilant crowds gathered outside Dublin Castle on Saturday evening, but exit polls had made the outcome clear the previous night. The Save the 8th campaign described the result as a "tragedy of historic proportions", and vowed to keep fighting, saying "every time an unborn child has his or her life ended in Ireland, we will oppose that, and make our voices known."
Shameful result but we will not despair
In a message to supporters, SPUC CEO John Smeaton said that the result is "a mark of shame for every Irish voter who, with knowledge of what has happened elsewhere, has chosen to dishonour new human life and the place of the child in his or her mother's womb." However, he said, "will not give in to feelings of despair. SPUC will be continuing its work in Ireland. We will renew our efforts and explore every possibility to bring protection to unborn babies in Ireland. "
The North is next?
Before the street celebrations had ended, the abortion lobby was turning its attention to Northern Ireland. MPs from all parties have been putting pressure on the Prime Minister to act to legislate for abortion in the province, which is not subject to the 1967 Abortion Act.
The onslaught is being led by Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who is calling for a free vote on her planned amendment to the Domestic Violence Bill which would extend abortion to Northern Ireland. 160 MPs, including senior Conservatives such as Chair of the Health Select Committee Sarah Wollaston, are said to support the plan. Labour's Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti said that the issue was a "test" for "self-identifying feminist" Theresa May.
There has also been talk of a referendum on abortion in Northern Ireland, but as SPUC's Northern Ireland Officer Liam Gibson told the press yesterday, "such a referendum would have no legal precedent in our system of government and would only serve those who seek to bypass political opposition to the abortion agenda."
What about the DUP?
Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, the pro-life party propping up Theresa May's Conservative Government, has said that "Friday's referendum has no impact upon the law in Northern Ireland." DUP Assembly Member Jim Wells said "we can't have a knee jerk reaction in Northern Ireland simply because the Irish Republic has taken this decision," and suggested the party could use a petition of concern to block any change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
What will Theresa May do?
The Prime Minister's official twitter account unprecedentedly congratulated "the Irish people on their decision and all of #Together4Yes on their successful campaign." However, Downing Street has so far insisted that abortion law in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter on which Westminster politicians should not interfere.
"It is important to recognise that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to their own process which is run by elected politicians. Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent," the spokesman said.
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