Northern Ireland news

Parishioners 'encouraged' at Mass to lobby MPs over relaxation of abortion laws

Bishop Noel Treanor has criticised British MPs over their attempts to reform abortion laws in Northern Ireland
Seanín Graham

A BISHOP has urged parishioners to contact their MP and formally object to Westminster's attempts to change strict abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

Those attending Mass in the Down and Connor diocese over the weekend were read a statement from Bishop Noel Treanor, in which he launched a scathing attack on British politicians' attempts to liberalise current legislation.

Outlining his "deepest concern" at what he branded as an "eleventh hour initiative" by some MPs to table amendments to a bill, Bishop Treanor said the matter was one that should be decided by locally elected assembly members.

His comments followed last week's intervention by the Women and Equalities minister Penny Mordaunt, who pledged that Westminster will step in to change the north's "appalling laws" on abortion if a court rules they are incompatible with individual human rights.

Ms Mordaunt said a House of Commons' committee had received "shocking" evidence about the lack of care available to women in the north seeking a termination.

Abortion is only legal in Northern Ireland in extreme cases where the woman's health is at risk. It is not permitted in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

Bishop Treanor has insisted that any reform of abortion or same-sex marriage - which could also be affected by the Westminster amendments - are for a local electorate.

"The issue of the protection of human life and the redefinition of marriage are not just devolved matters, which should be decided upon by the people of Northern Ireland, but touchstone issues which deserve the most anxious and intense consideration by legislators and citizens," he said.

"It is therefore vital that citizens of Northern Ireland, and especially Christian citizens, take note that the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, now before the Westminster Parliament, is being used to introduce amendments aiming to liberalise provision of abortion in Northern Ireland without the say-so of either the citizens of Northern Ireland or their elected representatives.

"I would encourage everyone urgently to contact their MP this weekend or on Monday to register their objection to this undemocratic process."

The court ruling referred to by Ms Mordaunt is expected shortly, and results from a legal challenge brought by Sarah Ewart (28), who in 2013 had to travel to England for an abortion after receiving a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

Her case was brought after the Supreme Court ruled last year that abortion laws were in breach of human rights laws.

However, the court concluded that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission - which brought the case - did not have the power to bring the proceedings as it was not itself a "victim" of any unlawful act.

Meanwhile, thousands of people marched through Dublin on Saturday to protest against abortion.

It is more than a year since the Republic's historic abortion referendum, in which an overwhelming majority backed the relaxation of its strict laws.

Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, was among those who participated in the All-Ireland Rally for Life.

He said: "The direct and intentional taking of the life of any innocent human being is always gravely wrong - we must avoid becoming desensitised to the value of every human life."

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