Jim Wells, South Down DUP MLA has welcomed news that the ‘Termination of Pregnancy statistics’ are to be revised, changing the terminology used to collate data of Northern Ireland abortion rates to further distinguish between the medical reasons behind abortions. The audit, proposed by Health Minister Edwin Poots, introduces a subset to the current Medical Coding after it was found that the total figure of ‘medical abortions’ also included stillborn babies and miscarriages, which meant the published abortion rates decreased from 235 to 123 between the five-year period between 2005 and 2010.
Mr Wells has stated that “Despite the revision downwards of the figures, party colleagues and I continue to have concerns around the basis on which some terminations in Northern Ireland are taking place”
“Recording the reasons for terminations will hopefully serve to provide a greater degree of public confidence that the law in Northern Ireland is being upheld.”
Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Criminal Justice Act (NI) 1945. However, abortion is considered legal under the circumstances that it will protect the pregnant mothers mental and/or physical health. It should also be noted that abortion not undertaken under the right circumstances is punishable with up to life imprisonment.
Jim Wells has stated that “This will come as a relief to a great many pro-life supporters in the province.” It is still unclear who he assumes are ‘pro-death’. He is currently facing a wave of criticism for the comment “Abnormality of the foetus is not a reason for an abortion in Northern Ireland and neither is rape“.
One notable Pro-Life lobby group are Precious Life, who have recently called for a public enquiry and a police investigation into the high numbers of abortions in Northern Ireland in contrast to England and Wales.
Recently released data in Northern Ireland show that there were more abortions sanctioned as a procedure to save a mother’s life in the past two years, than in England and Wales combined over a 40 year period”
“… according to figures from the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), there was an average of 79 abortions per year over a 5 year period allegedly performed to “save the life of the mother.”
The group claims that they have not yet received a satisfactory answer as to why the numbers of abortions in Northern Ireland are so high in comparison studies. However, Precious Life are not a group that could be described as balanced, judicial or fair. Their website states that:
Every day unborn babies and their mothers are being sent to England for abortions by the Family Planning Association (FPA). These babies will die a horrible death and their mothers will be left physically and emotionally wounded if we are not there to encourage them to choose life. You can save these babies. They need your prayers and help.
The appeal to emotion is clear. The balance of the argument would be to showcase the contrasting examples, such as pregnancy arising from rape or incest. Would it be wrong to assume that these cases may also cause the mother mental or emotional harm? Knowing that abortion in your country also comes hand in hand with the threat of life imprisonment wont lead to a very healthy state of mind. Precious Life are a lobby group, and they should be treated as such – with measure. They are “non-denominational’ and ‘non political’, but are quoted as saying “We realise this is a spiritual battle which needs to be fought with spiritual weapons”. Hands up who knows what God they are praying to?
The need for clear terminology and transparency is vital, and the news that the new system may help to further define cases is welcome. It should however, be implemented with the guidance of professional medical personnel, and not made to appeal to the whim of lobby groups and pro-life organisations such as Precious Life or political figures that feel the figures don’t represent their particular views on the subject. Opinion cannot be allowed to negate medicine – and especially not that of lobby groups that would rather have you believe that the high abortion rates in Northern Ireland are part of some country-wide medical conspiracy to circumvent the current law.
Words: Jason A Murdock
(NOTE: We do not mean to imply that Jim Wells acts alongside Precious Life in any way, we use PL as an example of Northern Irish abortion lobby group and do not mean to imply the personal preferences of any political figure)