Lawmakers in Northern Ireland are launching a last-ditch effort to prevent the legalization of abortion across their country.
Members of the devolved government at Stormont will return to the Northern Ireland Assembly chamber on Monday for the first time in nearly three years after the government broke and legislative power was handed back to Westminster.
The move comes after at least 30 members signed a petition triggering an immediate recall — it is time-sensitive because the British Parliament has already passed legislation that is set to legalize abortion if Stormont does not get up and running by October 21. Now, following a dramatic turn of events, the deadline day will coincide with the Assembly’s summoning.
The majority party of the fragile coalition, the DUP, confirmed that more than 30 MLAs (Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly) responded to its call to sign the petition. The DUP has shot down previous attempts to liberalize abortion in Northern Ireland, which is only legal if the mother’s life is in serious danger. Currently, no exceptions are made in the instance of rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormality.
Last month, huge protests erupted in the traditionally Christian country, with over 20,000 pro-lifers demonstrating outside Stormont.
There is doubt over whether the recall will achieve any success in blocking the legislation from passing. First, the members will need to elect a speaker with cross-community support. Unfortunately, with the absence of Sinn Fein, the second-largest party, this will be impossible.
Sinn Fein, whose political goal is to have Northern Ireland break away from the United Kingdom and be united with the Republic of Ireland, has been campaigning for abortion to be legalized during the stalemate — the left-wing Irish nationalists have ramped up efforts since the Republic of Ireland legalized the practice last year. It is, therefore, in Sinn Fein’s interest to skip sitting in a recalled Assembly and instead allow the new law to be enforced directly form Westminster. Ironic, of course, because the party openly rejects British government influence in Northern Ireland’s affairs and even adheres to a policy of abstentionism — refusing to take their seats in the House of Commons in protest against “British rule.”
Earlier this week, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, made a veiled plea for Stormont to be recalled so that laws could be passed that are “more tailored and more shaped for the interests of Northern Ireland.”
Citing the concern of church leaders across the nation, Smith said he would be “working all week to encourage political leaders to get back into an Executive and ensure that they can shape abortion laws for Northern Ireland” that are “in the best interest of all Northern Ireland citizens.”
In a joint statement on the issue, the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches all called upon their respective congregations to pray and to lobby their locally elected representatives on behalf of the unborn.
Part of the statement reads as follows:
We are, along with others, gravely concerned that the imposition of this Westminster legislation:
– Removes from law all explicit protection for the unborn child up to 28 weeks of pregnancy
– Offers no specific protection for unborn babies with disability
– Does not prohibit abortion based on the sex of the baby
– Creates a potential vacuum of up to five months in Northern Ireland for unregulated abortion to exist with all the attendant health risks to women.Joint statement from the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches.
The statement added that the Northern Ireland political parties “have it in their own hands to do something about this.”
“They all need to take risks and make the compromises necessary to find an accommodation that will restore the devolved institutions,” it continued.
“We are calling on the Secretary of State to recall the Assembly before 21 October to provide an opportunity for the parties to take the necessary steps both to prevent these laws coming onto effect and to find a better Northern Ireland solution for these challenging issues.”
Do pray for the politicians of Northern Ireland at this critical time.