Magazine article The Human Life Review

Abortion in Northern Ireland: An Interview with Bernadette Smyth

Magazine article The Human Life Review

Abortion in Northern Ireland: An Interview with Bernadette Smyth

Article excerpt

Bernadette ("Bemie") Smyth is president of Precious Life, the largest prolife group in Northern Ireland (, founded in 1997. Northern Ireland has recently been the focus of a concerted effort-on the part of abortion campaigners, judges, and some international groups-to force changes in its abortion law, which still protects the unborn. Ms. Smyth recently spoke with Dr. John Grondelski for the Human Life Review on the question of the current struggles over protection of the unborn in Northern Ireland. Dr. Grondelski is a former associate dean of the School of Theology at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

HUMAN LIFE REVIEW (HLR): Few people know that when the British Parliament passed the Abortion Act 1967, liberalizing abortion in the United Kingdom, its provisions explicitly did not extend to Northern Ireland. Why not? And what is the state of abortion law there today?

BERNADETTE SMYTH: There has never been any political will to introduce the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.

Firstly, let me tell you a little bit about the politics of Northern Ireland and how we have come to where we are today.

Between 1921 and 1971, Northern Ireland had its own Parliament. When the Abortion Act 1967 was passed in Westminster, the issue of abortion was left for the Northern Ireland Parliament to decide. It never took it up.

The Northern Ireland Parliament was abolished with the return of direct rule in 1973. At that time, Westminster pledged that it would not impose any change in abortion law on the people of Northern Ireland without consultation with their elected representatives, and that any change would come about only with broad support from a cross-section of the people.

As a result of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, a devolved government was established in Northern Ireland. This is the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has full legislative and executive authority for all matters that are the responsibility of its government departments, an example being criminal justice matters, which includes abortion.

The people of Northern Ireland have always made their voices heard on the subject of abortion-saying it would never occur in their name. That is why abortion is still a criminal offence here, governed by sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. There is now, however, a concerted campaign to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland in cases where an unborn child has been diagnosed with a life-limiting disability.

HLR: Many people outside Northern Ireland associate it with the long history of sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants. But the pro-life/ anti-life split is not along religious fault lines, is it? Can you describe how the two main religious communities in Northern Ireland view abortion, and who is really pushing for legalizing it?

MS. SMYTH: The pro-life and pro-abortion divide in Northern Ireland has nothing to do with a divide between Catholics and Protestants. In fact, the people clamouring for legalized abortion are primarily liberal-minded atheists, "pro-choice feminists," and "human rights activists" with a ferocious hostility to any person who stands by the principle that it is morally wrong to kill unborn children.

Amnesty International have found their very own "Jane Roe" and have been exploiting the case of a young woman from Northern Ireland who travelled to England for an abortion when she discovered her unborn child had been diagnosed with anencephaly in October 2013.

Since then, the campaign for legalizing abortion in cases of so-called "fatal fetal abnormality" has been gaining momentum, with the Justice Minister launching a public consultation on legalizing abortion in cases of "lethal fetal abnormality and sexual crime" in October 2014.

Most recently, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, with the support of Amnesty International, sought a judicial review of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, claiming that the illegality of abortion in cases of rape, incest, and "serious malformation of the foetus" was in breach of Articles 3, 8, and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. …

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