The debate surrounding the issue of abortion laws in Northern Ireland has intensified after comments made by Jim Wells, South Down MLA and the future Health Secretary of Northern Ireland, faced criticism – largely from pro-choice groups that lobby for women’s right to abortion – such as Alliance for Choice, but also from fellow politicians.
Wells stated live on Radio Ulster that he believed that women who have fallen pregnant after being a victim of rape should not be exempt from the current abortion laws. He went on to state: “In Northern Ireland, there are hundreds of married couples who would love to adopt children – a child, a baby – and who could give support in that situation.“
His party, the Democratic Unionist Party, also stepped in to clarify his statements saying “The DUP has consistently opposed the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland – a view which has been endorsed by the Northern Ireland public and is shared by almost all main political parties in the province.”We would like to see as few abortions carried out as possible, but recognise that a small number of abortions are legally carried out in Northern Ireland and victims of rape may be included within this.”
The story stems from the revision in abortion rate statistics, which alters the definitions behind the specific reasons for abortions. This meant that once miscarriages and still-born figures had been excluded, the actual rate of terminations was significantly less than previously thought.
Jim Allister (TUV) – who has a long history of campaigning on the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland – is the latest political figure to “welcome greater clarity” on the subject of abortion rates. In his latest statement, Allister writes:
“I welcome the fact that Minister Poots has provided greater clarity on the reasons for abortions performed in Northern Ireland. I would agree with him that it is more appropriate to provide statistics on “termination of pregnancy” rather than previously published data on “medial abortions”.
“This has been something which TUV and groups like the Society for the Protection of the Unborn and Precious Life have been calling for, for some time.”
One aspect of the story that has not been reported is the link that binds both these men to lobby groups such as Precious Life. Both Jim Wells and Jim Allister are members of the ‘All Party Pro Life Group‘ in association with the Northern Ireland Assembly. They aim: “To uphold the sanctity of life, including the life of the unborn child and to promote a pro-life perspective in the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
The All Party Pro Life Group consists of members of the SDLP, DUP, UUP and Alliance. It is chaired by Pat Ramsey MLA. Information is currently scarce on how the party plan to achieve their aims or future plans, but one link on the website is significant – a link to Precious Life.
The website LifeNews.com published an interview with Bernadette Smyth, Director of Precious Life in which she states “We have been challenging the DHSSPS since they first released abortion figures in 2005. To date we have not received a satisfactory answer to why abortions are being performed in Northern Ireland, when it is illegal under the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 and Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945”.
Smyth goes on to say:
“We welcome the statement by TUV leader Jim Allister calling on the DHSSPS to ensure that the law against abortion in Northern Ireland is being complied with.
Strangely, the statement almost exactly mirrors that of both Jim Wells and Jim Allister.
An opinion piece published on the Belfast Telegraph website on Friday summed it up well:
“But Mr Wells is not just a backbench MLA. He is set to be the next Health Minister in Northern Ireland. His comments are another example of a politician bringing their own morality — no matter how strongly held — to bear on an issue which demands impartiality and a reliance on science rather than morals.”
At present, one of the more intriguing aspects to the story seems to be our politicians, from a wide variety of party divides, coming together on this one issue – Pro Life. Political Issues tend to be opinionated by their very nature, however at what point does opinion start to negate science and medicine? At what point does a collective of like-minded politicians, acting alongside a lobby group such as Precious Life, start to resemble a lobby group itself?