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Northern Ireland's Abortion Troubles

A PPL news post by Rev. Justin Marple

Following on the heels of abortion liberalization in the Republic of Ireland to its south, the people of Northern Ireland will face what modern Christian hymn-writers Keith and Kristyn Getty call “the greatest evil to ever reach Northern Ireland.” Known for the song “In Christ Alone,” the couple has never spoken out about politics or social issues before, but their statement sounds an alarm about the lives that will now be lost to abortion in their country. Indeed, they compare the new law to the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland (a civil war) and say it will lead to, by far, an even greater genocide. And unlike their southern neighbors, the British are imposing this legal, cultural, and social change upon the people of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is a particularly glaring example of abortion becoming legal in an undemocratic fashion. Of course, it isn't the first time this has happened. Most famously, the Supreme Court bypassed the normal democratic processes to legalize it in the United States in 1973. But across the pond in 2019, the British Parliament decided to make Northern Ireland more English through an amendment to a routine bill. Meanwhile, the Sinn Féin party in Northern Ireland didn't seem to mind that the British Parliament was overriding the recent trend toward devolution of power in the United Kingdom.

The Guardian explained that British lawmakers approved the change in July and said it would take effect beginning on October 22, 2019, unless Northern Ireland's assembly blocked it. That defunct assembly had not met for nearly three years. A last minute attempt by the Democratic Unionist Party to reconstitute it failed.

The BBC reported, “Before now, abortion was only allowed [in Northern Ireland] if a woman's life was at risk or there was a danger of permanent and serious damage to her physical or mental health.” They also say that Northern Ireland will be one of the first places in the United Kingdom where people protesting or causing obstruction within buffer zones around hospitals can be prosecuted. Estimates are that 1,060 elective abortions will take place in Northern Ireland per year once they finish putting the infrastructure into place needed to implement it. This number appears to not include the effects of legalizing abortion pills.

CBS News adds that Northern Ireland had one of the strictest laws in Europe concerning abortion. Both women and doctors who broke the law could potentially face life in prison. Abortion rights activists such as Emma Campbell, who supplied abortion pills to women in Northern Ireland illegally, argued, “Six months ago, when the proposals for the new laws in Alabama were set out, we were kind of saying, 'Hey, we're worse than Alabama.'” The legal change also ended all ongoing prosecutions related to abortion including a case against a mother for getting abortion pills for her 15 year-old daughter. Furthermore, the government will pay for women to go to England to get an abortion if there are no local providers. (They already pay for the abortion itself.)

However, what may be surprising for many Americans is that all of Europe has stricter laws regarding abortion than the United States. As the Washington Post and others note, abortion has been legal in the rest of the United Kingdom since 1967 but in most cases only until the 24th week of pregnancy and in a few cases until the 28th week.

Now abortion is legal in Northern Ireland up to 28 weeks. One Irish columnist noted that the 28 week cutoff contrasts with reporting earlier this week that 82% of babies born at 26 weeks survive and recent medical guidance that British babies born at 22 weeks should receive medical treatment because more and more are able to survive.

At the same time the existing laws against abortion were overturned, so were the existing marriage laws. It is anticipated that same-sex marriage will be available by Valentine's Day in 2020. The New York Times pointed out that the changes to the abortion laws have stirred a much bigger reaction in Northern Ireland than the changes regarding same-sex marriage.

Keith and Kristyn Getty's statement estimates that 100,000 lives have been saved because the UK Abortion Act (1967) didn't apply to Northern Ireland. Thus, they ask those hearing this news to pray for Northern Ireland's leaders, churches, and for groups that are seeking to protect both mothers and their preborn babies. But first, they offered a prayer including the refrain, “Lord have mercy.”

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