Friday, 20 March 2009

Pro the unborn life. Prepared to risk the lives of women who are already born.

When Diane Abbot sought to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, in order to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, Jeffrey Donaldson threatened ‘constitutional crisis’ unless the government performed a tactical manoeuvre to block the amendment being heard. Now the Department of Health has issued guidelines in order to advise health professionals in Northern Ireland on the legal position as regards terminating pregnancy. Donaldson and his colleagues have voted against the advice at the executive.

On Good Morning Ulster, Jeffrey, with all the smugness one associates with him, assured listeners that laws on termination would not be liberalised in Northern Ireland. All the political parties agree.

Which is all well and good, but rather overlooks the fact that abortion falls under the remit of justice, and as we are all aware, policing and justice remain reserved matters. Donaldson and his ‘toy town parliament’ buddies (to borrow O’Neill’s phrase) are not responsible for establishing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. That responsibility falls to Members of Parliament at Westminster.

Of course nominal unionism has not prevented the DUP (and to an extent other unionist parties on occasion) from attacking Westminster’s sovereignty as regards Northern Ireland (constitutional crisis Jeffrey?). Frequently we hear the argument that MPs in London should not interfere in business which concerns our region. Indeed a short lived, DUP slanted blog recently suggested that MPs at Westminster should not debate the possible devolution of powers which that institution currently retains!

Donaldson and his DUP colleagues should not be able to have it both ways. If they wish politicians in Northern Ireland to have responsibility for laws on abortion, they should call for policing and justice to be devolved immediately. Otherwise Westminster retains discretion on that matter and Westminster should decide. Clearly depriving women here of a service available, on the NHS, throughout the rest of the United Kingdom is something parliament should address.

In the particular instance of the Department of Health’s guidelines, it is pathetic that members of the executive oppose affording health professionals more clarity. And it is entirely wrong to seek to ensure doctors must jump through hoops in order to secure a termination which might save the life of the prospective mother. That represents fundamentalism at its worst, when a hard-line stance on abortion, and a dread of creeping liberalisation, endangers life. Which is, as Bill Hicks once observed, ‘kinda base irony’ considering these people describe themselves as ‘pro-life’.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not really up to the local male-dominated and highly reactionary political parties to 'decide' on our behalf as issues such as this should be the subject of a free vote. Votes in the Commons would not be whipped on such an issue - nor should they be in the Assembly. However, the points you make are all very valid. The fact is that the majority of our so-called politicians take a moral high-ground based on religious belief that only a minority of our society subscribes to. In particular the DUP defines itself based on fundamentalist doctrine which runs counter to the ethical norms of the vast majority of the UK population.

It is a disgrace that so many young women from Northern Ireland are denied the same rights to sugical procedures that their fellow country women are offered in other parts of the UK. But then the DUP wants Northern Ireland to be perpetually different. Different 'moral' standards. Different rights.

If that's a United Kingdom then I'm a banana.