By Vatican News staff writer
The Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland have spoken up against a controversial decision last week by authorities to direct the Executive and Department of Health to make abortion services available in Northern Ireland by 21 March 2022.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Bishops said that the move, a directive by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, is “the latest in a line of decisions by the current Westminster Government” which they believe “threaten the fragile balance of relationships at the heart of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.”
The bishops also express concern that some local political parties seem content to welcome the “unilateral move” on such an issue which is “of fundamental importance to local voters” while they challenge other unilateral impositions on other issues.
Changes to abortion laws in Northern Ireland were liberalized in 2019 following legislation passed at Westminster during the absence of devolution. Since then, the commissioning of services was stalled due to a disagreement within the devolved administration.
However, on 22 July, Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, directed the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Board to implement more liberal abortion services amid opposition from some Northern Irish ministers.
Lewis said he was issuing the direction because of the “ongoing stalemate” among the five-party executive, adding that he has “a legal and moral obligation to ensure the women and girls in Northern Ireland are afforded their rights and can access the healthcare.”
Protecting the right to life
In light of the move, the bishops noted that with many others, from a wide range of moral, philosophical and religious backgrounds, they “have consistently held that the right to life of every person, irrespective of stage of development or ability, is the prior and essential right of all other human rights.”
They also highlighted that our shared search for peace is driven “in no small part by our collective rejection of the brutality and demeaning of human dignity that occurs when the right to life is diminished in any way.”
In this regard, they expressed concern that the failure to extend this sensitivity and care to our own fellow human beings in the womb, as well as to pregnant mothers, will one day be seen as “a grave moral blindness on the part of this generation and a profound dereliction of our responsibility to uphold the most basic human right of all – the right to life.”
“An unjust law”
The Northern Irish bishops went on to note that in unilaterally imposing this decision on the Assembly to provide abortion services, it is as if the Westminster government “believe the answer to the issue of providing compassionate care for a woman and her unborn child in pregnancy can be framed simply and exclusively as a ‘healthcare issue’.”
On this matter, they pointed out that thousands of unborn children, whose humanity is excluded and who have no legal protection have been excluded from the discussion. It is thus for this reason, the bishops stressed, that “the argument for the protection of all human life can never be abandoned or referred to human rights experts alone.”
“Westminster has imposed an unjust law,” the Bishops said. “Christians, and all people of good will, can never stand silently by and fail to raise their voices at any attempt to ignore completely the fact that unborn children are human beings worthy of protection.”
Appeal to the faithful
Concluding their statement, the bishops called on all Catholics and all those who share their view on the inviolability of all human life to “reflect carefully on the issues raised by this succession of unilateral impositions by the Westminster Government” as the Northern Ireland prepares in coming months for elections to the local Assembly.
They also encouraged everyone who believes in the equal right to life and compassionate care for a mother and her unborn child to “ask local candidates and political parties to explain their position on these interventions and on this most fundamental of all issues.”