The British Parliament is imposing its will on the citizens of Northern Ireland by passing legislation decriminalizing abortion there, one Catholic lawmaker says.
“We know that the last vote to be held in the United Kingdom in any of the jurisdictions was in Northern Ireland, where they said they didn’t want these laws,” David Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, an independent member of the House of Lords and a Catholic, told CNA on Thursday.
“But they have been imposed by the metropolitan classes at Westminster, over and above the beliefs of the people of Northern Ireland.”
The Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016 successfully opposed legal abortion, but because the assembly is currently not functional due to a dispute between its two major political parties, the British Parliament has passed an Executive Formation bill meant to serve as a temporary legislative replacement. It will take effect if the Assembly is not functional by October 21. The legislation includes amendments legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill passed the UK House of Lords by a 182-37 vote, after passing the House of Commons the week prior. The House of Lords also included an amendment delaying the introduction of legal same-sex marriage until 2020.
In response, the Northern Ireland Catholic bishops’ conference condemned the legislation’s “unprecedented” use of authority to legalize abortion in the region.
Lord Alton spoke with CNA at a side event of the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. from July 15-19. The second annual gathering of religious and civic leaders from around the world featured discussions of religious persecution and how best to promote freedom of religion around the globe.
In his interview with CNA on Thursday, Lord Alton noted that the effort to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland is part of a broad “liberal intolerance” to impose secular values that “gets pretty close to being a form of persecution,” especially on end-of-life issues.
He noted the recent case of a disabled woman in the UK who was ordered by a judge to have a forced abortion, before an appeals court overruled the judge, as another example of this intolerance. The 2012 case of two Catholic midwives in Glasgow, who ultimately lost their legal battle against having to perform an abortion, “was a harbinger of worse to come,” he warned.
During July 10 debates by the House of Lords, Lord Alton said that the amendments on abortion and same-sex marriage were tantamount to the ideological colonization of Northern Ireland.
“To me, it feels more like ideology-driven colonialism of the worst kind,” he said, noting that “I have been contacted by people in Northern Ireland who are resolutely appalled by the way they feel they have been treated.”
“The unseemly haste” with which the bill was pushed through the UK Parliament is reminiscent of “emergency powers legislation” from the days before the Good Friday Agreement, and not “unionism,” Lord Alton said.
The legislation came after committees at the United Nations have called for the decriminalization of abortion, and for the UK government to change the law despite the principle of “devolution,” by which the Northern Ireland Assembly was given the power to legislate in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The UN Committee Against Torture recommended the decriminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland, in June, and in May, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also called for the UK government to act to decriminalize abortion in the region.
“Regardless of what one thinks about abortion, there is no human right to abortion,” Lord Alton said in his remarks on July 10. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has 30 articles, none of which suggests that there is a human right to abortion.”
He noted that “100% of those voting to change its laws represented constituencies from outside Northern Ireland and 100% of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament who were present voted against it.”
“How can the British Parliament treat part of the United Kingdom with such utter contempt?” he asked.