The UK's largest pro-life grassroots campaign group says the London Government will regret the damage it is doing to Northern Ireland's political institutions in its determination to force an extremist abortion agenda on the Province. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is warning that the decision to amend the constitutional settlement established by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement will undermine the credibility of devolution.
The UK Government says it is prepared to act "very quickly" to bring about a rapid expansion in the provision of abortion in Northern Ireland. On Wednesday afternoon, MPs backed regulations which amend the the Northern Ireland Act 1998 by 215 votes to 70. These regulations will effectively allow the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, to dictate abortion policy in the Province.
Liam Gibson, SPUC Policy and Legal Officer, who is based in Belfast, said:
"Northern Ireland's devolved structures were designed to ensure that decision about contentious issue, such as abortion, were taken on the basis of consensus. The Ministerial Code placed members of the Stormont government under a statutory duty to consult their colleagues and find a way forward that all parties could accept. These new regulations give Brandon Lewis greater power than Ministers elected by the people of Northern Ireland. They have the potential to cause complete confusion by creating a rival power structure within the administration, health officials may be faced with incompatible and even contradictory instructions.
"Brandon Lewis has made it clear that he intends to move quickly to expand the provision of abortion. But while he can demand that funding is made available for late term abortions he will not have to account for the financial impact his decisions will have for existing healthcare which is already at braking point in many places," said Mr Gibson.
SPUC also argues that the Parliamentary procedure used to change Northern Ireland's constitutional settlement is not lawful and has launched an application for a judicial review of the legality of the 2022 Regulations.
"The process that the Government has used to pursue its agenda is completely inappropriate. Constitutional legislation like the Northern Ireland Act 1998 should not be altered by way of a statutory instrument. That allowed these Regulations to be put into effect weeks ago without the possibility of them being amended. MPs were merely required to rubber stamp a decision already implemented by the Government," said Mr Gibson.
"SPUC is preparing a legal challenge to these Regulations and we hope that the court will recognise that in the frustration caused by its inability to impose a radical abortion regime on Northern Ireland, the Government has over stepped the limits of its legitimate power."