09 July 2019, The Tablet

Westminster attempting to introduce 'abortion by the backdoor' in Northern Ireland

Bishop Sherrington described the move as 'the most serious threat to the life of the unborn child in modern times'

Westminster attempting to introduce 'abortion by the backdoor' in Northern Ireland

Women calling for abortion reform in Northern Ireland takes part in the Processions' artwork march, in Belfast
Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images

The Primate of All Ireland has said attempts by MPs in Westminster to introduce “abortion by the backdoor” in the absence of Northern Ireland’s Assembly underlines the “urgent” need for a restoration of Stormont.

Archbishop Eamon Martin joined Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster and Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor in expressing deep concern over the proposed amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill which are aimed at legalising abortion in Northern Ireland.

A vote was due to take place on Tuesday with Labour MP Stella Creasy spearheading cross party efforts to remove existing legal protection for unborn babies in Northern Ireland.

In a statement, Bishop Sherrington described the move as “the most serious threat to the life of the unborn child in modern times”. He appealed to Catholics to contact their Member of Parliament requesting that they vote against the proposal as a matter of urgency.

His appeal to Catholic voters was reiterated by Bishop Noel Treanor. A statement which was read at Masses across the diocese of Down and Connor on Sunday urged the faithful to register their objection to this “undemocratic process”.

Bishop Treanor suggested that the move to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which criminalise abortion was over-reach by politicians in London in a devolved matter which should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland.

He stressed that it was also a matter which deserved the “intense consideration” by the legislators and citizens of Northern Ireland.

Bishop Sherrington warned that the effect of repealing sections 58 and 59 in Northern Ireland would be to provide for abortion on demand up to 28 weeks. In England and Wales, he said, “it would remove almost all of the existing legal safeguards surrounding abortion which limit abortion”.

In his statement, Bishop Sherrington said such a change would leave Northern Ireland with a significantly different abortion framework to the Republic of Ireland, where, following the recent referendum, there is a twelve-week limit.

“It would also leave Northern Ireland, England and Wales with some of the most extreme abortion laws in the world, and more than twice the limit of most European countries,” he said.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said there was something “particularly cynical in taking advantage of the present political crisis to remove the right to life of the most vulnerable of our people; the unborn baby. The common good cannot be served in this way,” he warned.

Speaking to The Tablet, Archbishop Martin said abortion was “an emotive issue” and one which people wanted to have a say in and to have discussed openly and publicly with their political leaders. “It is not something that we sweep under the carpet and we try to introduce by the backdoor,” he criticised, saying the effort at repeal was about fast-tracking abortion into Northern Ireland.

The Archbishop was one of a number of Irish bishops who joined up to 10,000 people at a pro-life rally in Dublin on Saturday. Speaking to The Tablet, Archbishop Martin said that despite the outcome of last year’s referendum, it was still important take a stand on abortion. “Society’s laws may have changed but the law of God remains the same: to take the life of any person directly and intentionally is a grave sin and a terrible crime.”

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