Debate held in the Northern
20 June 2000
The Northern Ireland
Motion: that this Assembly
is opposed to the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to
Given the substantial number
of Members who want to participate in the debate this afternoon,
I have had to introduce some time limits. Mr Wells will
have 15 minutes to move the motion, and 15 minutes at the
end to wind up.
There is one amendment on
the Marshalled List, which I have accepted for debate. Ms
McWilliams will have 10 minutes to move the amendment, and
10 minutes to wind up at the end. All other Members will
have seven minutes, and we will have as many contributors
as possible. The House will adjourn at 6.00 pm in any case.
Jim Wells DUP: I
beg to move:
‘That this Assembly is opposed
to the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.’
Tuesday 20 June will be
a very bad day for 530 unborn children in Great Britain
because, today, their lives will be aborted. Every 24 hours
in hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales an average of
530 human beings are legally killed and disposed of under
powers granted by the 1967 Abortion Act. By the time this
debate concludes at 6.00 pm, another 88 children will have
been killed through abortion. In hospitals throughout Britain,
teams of surgeons will be trying to save the lives of unborn
children in one ward, while down the corridor in the same
hospitals, other teams will be destroying the lives of unborn
children. Since the 1967 Act became law, 5.3 million abortions
have been carried out in Great Britain — more than the populations
of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic combined, and
almost the same number as the number of Jews who were murdered
in Hitler’s death camps.
The main purpose of my motion
is to ensure that this legalised carnage is not permitted
in Northern Ireland by way of an extension of the 1967 Act
to this part of the United Kingdom, and I am moving it today
in support of the right to life of the unborn child, and
knowing that both communities are perhaps more united on
this issue, than on any other.
On leaving Northern Ireland,
Dr Mo Mowlam said that her biggest regret was that she had
failed to find an appropriate time to extend the Abortion
Act here. It is my hope that her wish will never be granted.
Human development is a continuous process, which starts
at the moment of conception when a unique human being is
created. Within two weeks of conception a child’s head is
distinct and he has the basic functions of liver, brain
and lungs. After 50 days he has fingers and toes, and by
11 weeks he can make facial expressions and even smile.
By 20 weeks he has well-developed eyelids and fingernails,
and 75% of the babies born between that time and 25 weeks
survive. The chilling fact under the 1967 Abortion Act is
that any of these babies can be killed, and legally. I said
earlier that there have been 5·3 million abortions in Great
Britain since 1967. The sad reality is that 98·6% of these
children were perfectly healthy human beings carried by
perfectly healthy mothers.
The vast majority of abortions
have been carried out on the grounds of a perceived risk
to the physical and mental health of the woman. However,
the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has
"there is no such danger
in the majority of these cases, as the reason for termination
is purely a social one".
When David Steel introduced
his Bill in 1966 he claimed
"It was not the intention
of the promoters of the Bill to leave a wide open door for
abortion on request".
It was claimed that the
Bill would merely clarify the law, enabling doctors to abort
in borderline or difficult cases without the fear of prosecution.
What has happened under the Abortion Act 1967 in the rest
of the United Kingdom has in effect been abortion on demand.
A Gallup opinion poll carried out in 1988 involved the interviewing
of 746 gynaecologists — 40% of those practising at the time
— and found that 85% either had worked or were working in
NHS hospitals where abortion on demand was practised. As
private clinics were opened, staffed by doctors prepared
to operate on anyone ready to pay the fee, Britain became
the abortion capital of the world.
Fortunately, the situation
in Northern Ireland is quite different. The Abortion Act
1967 was never introduced here, and we do not have abortion
on demand in the Province. Our law is a combination of statute
— including the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and
the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 1945 — and the
1939 case involving Dr Bourne. In Northern Ireland an abortion
can take place only if one of the following conditions is
satisfied: first, where the continuation of the pregnancy
would lead to serious medical or psychological problems
which would jeopardise the woman’s life; secondly, where
there is mental subnormality in the case of the mother;
thirdly, where there is proven contact with rubella or,
as it is generally known, German measles; or where there
is substantial genetic risk of having a mentally handicapped
As a result of this more
restrictive legislation in Northern Ireland, the number
of abortions carried out in the Province is quite low. There
were, for instance, 77 in the year 1997-98. In addition
to this, women can travel from Northern Ireland to England
for an abortion. The total number carrying out this journey
peaked in 1990, when 1,855 women went to Liverpool or London.
This declined substantially to 1,572 in 1997. It is estimated
that, in total, 45,000 women from Northern Ireland have
had abortions in Britain since the passing of the Abortion
Act 1967. What is quite clear from these figures is that
the number of Northern Ireland women having abortions since
the passing of the Act is much lower because it has not
been enacted here.
If the Abortion Act 1967
had been introduced in the Province 33 years ago we could
have expected some 140,000 abortions, yet the number is
less than a third of that. We have quite detailed information
as to the reasons why women from Northern Ireland have travelled
to the rest of the United Kingdom for abortions. In a parliamentary
written answer to a Mr Blunt, a Conservative Member of Parliament,
Miss Hewitt, Director of the Office of National Statistics,
gave details of the abortions carried out on women from
Northern Ireland in the period 1993-97. The total number
of abortions in that period was exactly 8,000, of which
7,725 gave as their reason the threat to the physical or
mental health of the woman.
In the rest of the United
Kingdom that is generally regarded as abortion on demand.
There were few genuine medical reasons for those abortions;
they were carried out for social reasons. Undoubtedly there
will be those who highlight the difficult cases. Using the
small number of difficult cases as examples, they will argue
that it is right to have abortion on demand for any woman
in Northern Ireland.
Time does not permit me
to deal with all the issues at this point, though I hope,
by means of intervention and summation, to deal with as
many as I can. The point that will always be raised in this
type of debate is that abortion may be required to save
the life of the mother. As I pointed out earlier, the law
in Northern Ireland currently allows abortion in those situations.
I must emphasise that this is an extremely rare occurrence.
There have been 5·3 million abortions in Great Britain since
1967. In just over 200 of those cases — 0.004% — the abortion
was carried out to save the life of the mother. That is
a tiny fraction.
In the Irish Republic a
study was carried out on 21 deaths which occurred amongst
74,000 pregnant women in the National Maternity Hospital
in Dublin. It was found that not one of those 21 mothers’
lives would have been saved by abortion.
There are those who will
argue that the introduction of the 1967 Act will prevent
what are known as backstreet abortions. The evidence indicates
that that is not correct. From 1968 until 1988 the police
in Great Britain recorded 968 offences of the procurement
of an illegal abortion. The corresponding figure for Northern
Ireland, where the 1967 Act did not apply, was five. In
the Irish Republic, where there is no abortion on demand,
the equivalent figure was two.
Claims with regard to the
number of people dying from illegal abortion have been widely
exaggerated by the pro-choice campaign. In 1982, for instance,
in Portugal, it was claimed that 2000 people had died as
a result of illegal abortions. Yet when the statistics were
examined more closely they revealed that the number of women
aged between 15 and 45 who died from any cause in Portugal
that year was 1,887. Clearly those statistics were absolute
There are those who will
argue that it is important to have abortion in order to
allow for the termination of a pregnancy should there be
a likelihood of a handicapped child being born. In those
situations, I believe, abortion is an attack on the most
vulnerable. I do not believe that those children are inferior,
or of any less value, than the able-bodied.
Yesterday I had the privilege
of attending a reception that Assembly Member Roy Beggs
organised for Mencap. Anyone who attended will, I am sure,
agree that the highlight of the event was a speech made
by Hilary Gammon, a young lady with learning difficulties.
Anyone who listened to her contribution could not fail to
be impressed by what she said. Hilary works for North Down
Borough Council and lives a very full and fulfilled life.
Many people who have disabled children or children with
learning difficulties will testify to the fact that as a
result of having those children, their lives have been enriched.
I have very little time for those who say that because a
child is likely to be born handicapped he or she should
automatically be aborted.
The pro-choice lobby would
say that every child should be a wanted child, and there
are many who would agree with that, but the evidence indicates
that abortion on demand does not achieve that. A study carried
out in southern California discovered that 91% of battered
children referred to clinics were the result of planned
or wanted pregnancies. A study of the child protection register
carried out by the NSPCC from 1973 until 1990 showed a three-fold
increase in child abuse during that period. If abortion
on demand meant that every child was a wanted child, why
has there been a trebling in the number of abused children
in the United Kingdom? Why is that happening? Abortion does
not seem to be working in that case.
Many will raise the very
difficult issue — and I accept that it is a difficult moral
issue — of pregnancies caused by rape or incest. The 1938
Bourne judgement permits abortions to be carried out in
Northern Ireland in those very difficult circumstances.
No one can possibly underestimate the trauma of a pregnancy
brought about by rape. However, such a tragedy cannot be
undone by the killing of one of the innocent victims of
the violent act. When put together, all the difficult cases
in Northern Ireland still add up to very few individual
The sad reality is that
there are far more parents on the register of those seeking
adoption than there are those difficult cases. There are
homes for these children who would otherwise be aborted.
We can all testify to having friends and relatives who have
adopted children and have provided excellent homes and very
fulfilled upbringings for them, so this idea that you go
for abortion in these difficult cases frankly holds no water.
There are other victims
associated with abortion beyond the 5·3 million children
who have been denied the right to life. There is a psychological
impact on the mothers. Ten per cent of those who have had
abortions have subsequently had long-term psychological
problems. In addition, there are moral problems for many
people involved in the Health Service in Northern Ireland
who would find it difficult to carry out, or assist in the
carrying out of, abortions. Their views also have to be
taken into consideration.
Time is rapidly running
out. I hope to deal with the Women’s Coalition’s amendment
by means of an intervention at some stage, but I ask the
House to give this motion its full support.
Mr Speaker: The Member
will, of course, have the opportunity to deal with all the
comments made in the course of the debate, including the
debate on the amendment, in his winding-up speech immediately
before the vote. However, as the Member has said, there
is a single amendment on the Marshalled List standing in
the name of Ms McWilliams.
Professor Monica McWilliams
NIWC: I beg to move the following amendment: Delete
all after "Assembly" and add
"refers the question of
the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 and related issues
to the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee
and requests that the Committee make a report to the Assembly
on the matter within six months."
We tabled this amendment
today because we do not want a heated, emotional, disturbing
debate for the next four hours. We want this discussion
to take place with as much access to information and advice
The current situation in
Northern Ireland is a mess and desperately needs reviewed.
Are Members going to address this issue in the same way
that they would deal with any other issue that comes before
the House? Could they in all honesty say that four hours
was enough time to come to a considered opinion on what
should be happening in Northern Ireland?
I want to deal with the
complexities that exist in the whole area of reproductive
health. It clearly needs a comprehensive inquiry. We need
a range of advice from gynaecologists, those working in
obstetrics, in public health, in primary and secondary schools,
in education and in sex education. We also need the people
from both the Alliance for Choice and Pro-Life to come before
the Committee. All deserve to have their opinions heard.
Many of you will never have heard from that range of professionals,
non-governmental organisations and groups. Here is an opportunity
to hear from them, to invite them to come, as you do in
all other Committees, to answer your questions, ask for
clarification and seek information in any hearing. The Health,
Social Services and Public Safety Committee would be the
best one to do that.
It sometimes takes a great
deal of courage in Northern Ireland, as it does anywhere,
to say that we do not know it all. We do not have all the
answers. We did not have them when we were dealing with
the constitutional issues. We only got to the agreement
after agonising hours and hours and hours of talking and
listening to those who even today, are against the agreement
and for the agreement, as is their democratic right. We
should take time to do that with this issue also.
I am asking Members to have
the courage to vote for our amendment. Let them say that
they do not know it all, they are prepared to get that information
and advice, contrary, challenging and confrontational as
it may be to their beliefs. It is important that they take
the opportunity to listen.
When the Assembly was set
up I believed that we would craft well, anything we did
and that we would take time to reflect on the realities
of life for all the people in Northern Ireland before we
formed our policies. We have said many times that we want
a responsive democracy, that we want legislation on policies
that do not create, in David Trimble’s words "a cold
house" in Northern Ireland. We would prefer it to be
a welcoming house, which acknowledges our diversity. How
many times on this Floor have I heard people talk about
the pluralism of Northern Ireland, the diversity of Northern
Ireland, the different backgrounds that we come from, our
different religious perspectives —
Patrick Roche NUIP: On
a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is this a debate about the
Belfast Agreement or about abortion?
Mr Speaker: I have
to say that some Members have found all sorts of ingenious
ways of bringing the Belfast Agreement into debate, as Mr
Roche is very well aware.
All I would say to Mr Roche is that we dealt with a
very cold house here on many issues, and it is neither fair
nor right to try to exclude people who have different views
from him or me on this issue. I was using that as a very
Ethics will come into this
debate today. Currently abortion is dealt with as a criminal
justice matter, and it is a justice issue — there is no
doubt about it. However, it is also a care issue, and the
ethic of care is something that we should deal very carefully
Let me say something very
briefly about the legislation here. Members may think that
we are dealing with the Abortion Act 1967, but under the
Northern Ireland Act 1998 the 1967 Act is not listed as
a reserved matter. There is a reference to the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology 1990 Act, which amended the previous legislation,
so we are really having a debate on outdated legislation.
The Northern Ireland Act is very specific as to the legislation
to which it refers.
If Members support our amendment
our amendment asking that the matter be referred to the
Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee, they
will not be promoting abortion. They will be asking for
a considered opinion on the situation in Northern Ireland,
and most Members probably do not know what that situation
is. We are asking that this matter be referred simply to
let the Health Committee end up with all the problems. No
one in this Chamber should ever ask for that to happen.
We are not relinquishing our responsibility; we are not
transferring our responsibility; we are taking our responsibility
We will have a debate about
the illegality, or the legality, of what we currently have,
but that will not lead us to a discussion on the causes.
I am delighted that schools have recently taken on board
a very, very tough issue for teachers, the issue of sex
education. There was debated in both the Catholic schools
and the state schools, on how they were going to introduce
this to their pupils at the appropriate age. I know that
in Catholic schools it is dealt with under the heading ‘Education
for Love’. Much of this information are facts which those
children never had before. It also leads young boys and
girls to understand the meaning of a responsible, mature
adolescent relationship. As we know, it is the lack of that
information in the past which led to the tragedies many
of us are discussing.
I will speak briefly about
the current legal situation and, here, I would like to take
issue with Mr Wells. Under our law for non-consensual sex,
in terms of both rape and incest, termination should be
permitted, but that is not the case. Indeed, it may be something
that both the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland
Bill of Rights have to look at.
Termination is an impossible
situation for all mothers. All of us who work with disability
groups — Mencap and many others — will always support those
groups. In Northern Ireland, doctors making difficult decisions
every day in relation to foetal abnormalities are performing
illegally. We must consider this fact in our investigations.
We also need to address
the question of technology and how it is overtaking us.
How will a system based on judicial interpretations of a
Victorian statute of 1861 stand in the face of changes in
medical technology? Undoubtedly, it is the more recent piece
of legislation of 1990 that the Northern Ireland Act refers
to. Currently, judicial rulings are based on very hard and
tough cases. If we want to leave it with the judges, so
be it. The judicial rulings state that, where there is a
probable risk of an adverse affect to the physical and mental
health of pregnant women, then terminations are permitted,
and so it goes. We are united in confusion. The whole area
is shrouded in confusion. To get out of that confusion,
it is very clear to me, we need to refer this to the appropriate
The Chairman of the Health,
Social Services and Public Safety Committee (Dr Joe Hendron
SDLP): Firstly, I would like to congratulate Mr Wells
on bringing this motion before the Assembly. I have studied
the amendment put forward by Prof Monica McWilliams. My
Committee will discuss this issue or any other issue that
we feel is important. Of that, there is no doubt. This issue
will not be resolved today irrespective of what happens,
and I am sure our Committee will have plenty of opportunities
to discuss it. I support the motion.
Not long ago an all-party
delegation went to see John Major when he was Prime Minister.
The DUP was represented by the Rev William McCrea. Seamus
Mallon and myself and also the Conservative and Labour Governments
were represented. We made it clear to the then Prime Minister
that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland were
implacably opposed to the extension of that Act. Jim Wells
made reference to Mo Mowlan and I agree with what he said.
There are of course very deep rooted, social economic and
personal reasons why people do seek abortion. In my own
position as a doctor over many years, I am indeed familiar
with the massive psychological trauma on a young girl with
an unplanned pregnancy. I do understand the many hundreds
who go to England from all parts of this island. As has
been said, the beginning of life for each human being is
fertilisation, when the father’s sperm fertilises the mother’s
egg. It is a momentous event in the beginning of a completely
new human being, unique in its own right from fertilisation;
23 chromosomes in the sperm, 23 in the egg, that is 46 chromosomes.
It is important to remember
that the baby is genetically complete at that point. Nothing
is added after that, other than nutrition and oxygen. It
is genetically complete. Of course, there are major environmental
influences, both intrauterine and after birth. Many of the
characteristics of the individual are determined at conception,
such as colour of hair, eyes and skin, et cetera. Growth
is controlled by the child’s own genetic code: DNA, or deoxyribonucleic
acid, as you would know, Mr Speaker. A single thread of
human DNA contains information equivalent to half-a-million
pages of five hundred words each. Between 21 and 25 days,
the heart starts to beat. Fingers and toes are formed shortly
Consider the methods of
abortion that are used. I could go on about vacuum aspiration
at 12-14 weeks, where parts of the human body are actually
sucked out, but time is running out.
As regards the woman’s right
to choose, I have nothing but the highest respect and understanding
for women and young girls who have unplanned pregnancies.
It is not for us, or anyone else, to condemn them. We should
try to help them, but abortion violates a human being’s
right to life. Human rights are universal. Unborn children
are the most vulnerable human beings in our society.
As Jim Wells said, all the
evidence suggests that providing abortions for people with
psychiatric problems does more harm than good. Only five
per cent of legal abortions are done on psychiatric grounds.
That is a fact of life. Intellectual honesty is important,
for the medical profession and beyond.
I will come to my final
point. I appreciate that you have given me seven minutes,
and my watch tells me I have a little while yet. I refer
the Assembly to the Home Secretary’s consultation document
‘Supporting Families’. A copy of this was given to each
member of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Committee on Wednesday. This is the first report of its
kind issued by any British Government Minister. The Assembly
and the Executive would do well to copy it. I commend this
particular report to the House. It is fascinating reading
and contains many suggestions. The problem lies with teenage
parenthood. There is a group in Lurgan and Craigavon that
has taken these matters on board:
"Unwanted and under-age
pregnancies, whether planned or unplanned, have a high personal,
social and economic cost and can blight the life chances of
younger teenagers … Many young teenagers show a worrying level
of ignorance about the ‘facts of life’."
It goes on to talk about
contraception —extremely important:
"Under 16 year olds are
often very ignorant about sexual matters and this is a crucial
risk factor for early teenage pregnancy … Research suggests
that boys who become fathers in their early teenage factors
are likely to have lived with neither or only one of their
The most important point
of all is that
"because of the links
between teenage pregnancy and social exclusion, the Prime
Minister has asked the Social Exclusion Unit to work on this
as its next priority. Its remit is to devise an integrated
strategy to cut rates of teenage parenthood, particularly
under-age parenthood, towards the European Union average."
In the Family Planning Association
document, Mrs Whitaker attacks the DUP for not developing
a strategy for reducing unplanned pregnancy. I say to her
that it is the Assembly and the Executive that must take
action in that regard.
Joan Carson UUP: For
the record, I must state that abortion is not a satisfactory
way to avoid unwanted pregnancies. It should never be seen
as the way out.
The debate on the controversial
issue of abortion and its effects on women in Northern Ireland
is of importance to the whole community — women in particular.
It is ironic that a man, who will never have to go through
childbirth or face the personal consequences of unwanted
pregnancy, is proposing the motion.
The 1967 legislation was
made by men for women and any future changes need to be
made in consultation with the women of Northern Ireland.
The Assembly may pass the
motion, but how is this motion going to persuade women that
abortion is not an option? Abortion is here whether we agree
with it or not. Abortions are already being carried out
in Northern Ireland. In 1997-98, 77 medical abortions were
carried out and in a survey 11% of GPs stated that they
had experience of seeing women who had been involved in
an amateur abortion. The morning-after pill is also an issue.
How would the proposer of the motion suggest controlling
that form of abortion?
The 1967 Act does not give
women carte blanche for obtaining abortion on demand. The
Act clearly states that a lawful abortion can only be obtained
when two registered medical practitioners agree that the
continuance of pregnancy would have a detrimental physical
or mental impact on the woman, or that the child, if it
were born, would be seriously handicapped.
It is simplistic to say
that if the 1967 Abortion Act were introduced all pregnant
women would wish to have an abortion. In Holland, where
abortion is freely available, only six out of every 1000
women procure an abortion. That is the lowest abortion rate
in the world. Why are such low numbers seeking abortions
in Holland when it is freely available? In Holland they
promote an ethic of personal responsibility with regard
to sexual activity. Dutch teenagers, because of this culture
of responsibility, tend to avoid sexual activity until they
are older. This makes Dutch teenage pregnancy rates the
lowest in Europe, with only four pregnancies per 1000 for
women aged 15 to 19.
Compare this to Northern
Ireland, which has about 29 pregnancies per 1000 women aged
15 to 19. If a woman from Northern Ireland wishes to have
an abortion and she has enough money, all she has to do
is look in ‘Yellow Pages’ and a number of English clinics
providing that service are listed.
Almost 2000 women from Northern
Ireland travel to Great Britain every year to use abortion
services. One fifth are under 20 years of age. The fact
that around 400 girls under the age of 20 are obtaining
abortions every year highlights the wider social problems.
A large proportion of children under the age of 15 are engaging
in sexual activity resulting in unwanted pregnancies. In
our schools sexual health must be promoted in a way that
encompasses spiritual and emotional health as well as physical
health and well-being. There is an obvious need for a sensitive
and compassionate programme for sex education that must
include parents, teachers and children.
The responsibility for an
abortion — or a termination — lies primarily with the woman
and not with the state. If the Assembly takes the simple
moral high ground and agrees this motion it will do nothing
to help those 2000 women who travel to Great Britain every
year for an abortion. This attitude will do nothing to tackle
the problem of teenage pregnancy. Once again the real issue
— preventing unwanted pregnancies — will be swept under
The amendment, if passed,
will put pressure on the Health, Social Services and Public
Safety Committee, and a six-month debate in the Committee
is not the way to address the abortion problem. In the Health,
Social Services and Public Safety Committee there are problems
by the score to be addressed — acute services, children’s
issues, and mental health to name but a few. I ask all in
the Assembly building today to consider the wider implications
of the necessity for having some form of legalized abortion.
Simply passing this motion today is to be blind to the wider
problems. We must have comprehensive sex education in our
schools placing value on loving human relationships. We
must make an effort to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies,
and we must have a co-ordinated approach by all interested
groups, agencies and parties to tackle the problem in a
realistic way. I appeal, above all, for our politicians
to have an understanding of those women who have to make
a difficult decision. Those women should not have to leave
home or have to leave Northern Ireland, and they should
not be made to feel like criminals, having to hide their
identities; they should not be ostracised by society. I
cannot support the motion.
Mitchel McLaughlin SF:
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Every party
approaching this debate will be able to testify to the intensity
of emotion and conviction that arise when the issue of abortion
is addressed. Elected representatives strive to the limits
of their ability and experience to interpret constituency
opinion and public will. We all come to it, as the previous
Member indicated, with our own attitudes, perceptions and,
indeed, prejudices. For that reason, the amendment is worthy
of support. We need a very calm and reflective discussion
— we have a collective responsibility. We must attempt to
achieve a very difficult balance with the right of any person,
man or woman, to have control over what happens to their
own bodies and those who profess sincerely held convictions
on the questions of pro-life or pro-choice. There can hardly
be any dispute that an overwhelming majority of our community
are opposed to the concept of abortion on demand and to
the current practice in Britain of the creative interpretation
of sections of the existing legislation, which achieves
the same outcome.
That is one reason why Sinn
Féin is opposed to the extension of this legislation to
the North. Sinn Féin is supporting the amendment put forward
by the Women’s Coalition because it believes that this issue
should be addressed and managed in a much more considered
and reflective fashion. This is an issue that invites harangues,
emotional rants and playing to the gallery. However, we
need a much more considered and honest debate that considers
all of the issues that arise from this very difficult and
complex issue. We believe that we must address the reality
that so many from this community — up to 7, 000 women from
this island — travel to access abortion services elsewhere.
Most of us will know someone who has had that experience
and had an abortion. In some cases they will reflect that
they made an informed decision. In our roles as elected
representatives through our various constituency clinics,
we will also have met women who have had an abortion, but
who were responding to intolerable personal, social and
emotional pressures. For those women, abortion was not a
free or informed option — it was not even a preferred option.
We will also have become aware of the trauma that is so
often a consequence of such situations. Sinn Féin believes
that this issue should be addressed in a comprehensive manner,
involving a multi-agency response that develops effective
services for sexual health and sex education, fuller access
to child support provision and specific support for single
It is my party’s view that
provision in the North is very inconsistent. We find that
emergency contraception — the morning-after pill, for instance
— may or may not be prescribed by doctors’ surgeries.
Some doctors prescribe emergency
contraception for patients who do not normally use their
practice, while others will not prescribe it at all. Accident
and emergency departments are not required to provide emergency
contraception, and many do not. Inconsistency in the application
of resources is an issue that should be addressed. Those
of us who are committed to dealing with the matter humanely
actively support calls for sex education and resources for
childcare and counselling.
It is Sinn Féin’s policy
to accept the need for abortion if the woman’s life or mental
health is at risk, or in grave danger, and also in cases
of rape or sexual abuse. We strongly support the demand
for full information and non-directive counselling. Opinion
polls in the North have consistently demonstrated support
for that position.
The current legal and health
provisions enforced in the North should be radically re-examined
and structured to deliver a service that will meet those
criteria. The Committee on Health, Social Services and Public
Safety should be asking whether it has developed policies,
within legislative parameters, that adequately respond to
the community’s needs. Clearly, it has not done so. Abortions
are carried out in the North in very limited circumstances.
Reference has been made to cases of severe foetal abnormality.
The invisible multitudes of women who travel to other countries
for abortions are prevented by our culture from discussing
their experience. Abortion is very much a part of Irish
life, and it is an indictment of our society that so many
women from our community choose abortion. However, the issue
The miserable history of
backstreet abortions, and the statistics of those who travel
to other countries seeking abortions, tell us plainly that
we have not yet responded to the issue in a satisfactory
way. I urge the House to support the amendment to the motion.
Seamus Close A: There
are few issues that will be debated in the House about which
I would feel more strongly or passionately than the issue
that we are discussing this afternoon. Abortion strikes
at the heart of society. It deals with the beginning of
human life, but tragically it is also about the snuffing
out of human life, even before birth. Abortion kills human
beings. Abortion kills the unborn child. It does not matter
whether it is six days, six hours, six minutes, or six seconds
after conception. In my book, human life begins at conception.
That human life which began then — not one hour, two hours,
or a week later, but at the moment of conception — is killed
by abortion. There is nothing arbitrary about that; it is
a fact. It is a fact of life, but tragically, it is also
a fact of death.
The tragedy is society today
is that abortion has become almost respectable in some people’s
eyes. It is accepted in many circles and demanded by those
who ought to know better. In Northern Ireland, we have the
crazy and absurd situation of people fighting for limited
hours of work, shorter working weeks, the right to work,
the equality agenda, and so on, also fighting for the right
to abortion. They would deny the greatest right of all,
the right of life to the unborn child. They are either misguided
or hypocrites. They would not give the unborn child the
opportunity of life. They spew forth their murderous arguments,
without a care in the world for the lives that they would
destroy. Worst of all, there are members of the medical
profession who advocate and pontificate about this form
of killing. They are a disgrace to their profession; a profession
that is supposed to cherish life and heal it not kill it.
Strong and emotional arguments
are advanced to justify abortion. There often seem to be
strong reasons for such justification, for example, in cases
of rape, or when the father is not the husband, when the
girl is unmarried or when the parents do not have the emotional,
physical or material resources to cope with another child.
I am the first to concede
that anyone who has not faced these problems personally
cannot begin to appreciate the intensity of the human dilemma
that an unwanted pregnancy can generate. However, strong
reasons are not necessarily good reasons. Strong reasons
could be given to mitigate virtually every crime that is
committed, but that does not make the crime right or justify
it. In Northern Ireland, terrorists are threatening to go
back to their murderous ways and they advance arguments
to justify that, but murder and butchery are always wrong.
No human problem in society,
whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else, can be solved
by killing another human being. Abortion is violent. Abortion
is negative. It rests on the dangerous principle that the
small and the weak are inferior and that some human beings
are disposable. In a society that has made great steps in
coping with handicapped and physically and mentally disabled
people, the demand for abortion runs in parallel.
There is blatant abuse of
ultrasonic scanning by the medical profession to pinpoint
babies suffering from spina bifida, Down’s syndrome and
other disorders. Aborted babies are killed before advantage
can be taken of the advances made by medical science. Many
people in our so-called compassionate society now regard
these handicaps as unacceptable. What is the cure? The cure
is disposal. The cure is murder. In what other circumstances
do doctors prescribe death as the treatment and murder as
the cure? It is another tragic example of man’s inhumanity
What about the pro-abortion
lobby? What are the arguments? How does it justify these
demands? The most common argument is that it is the mother’s
right to choose. The unborn child is, after all, part of
her body. However, as Dr Hendron said, that argument fails
to recognise that the unborn child is genetically distinct
from its mother. It has its own sets of limbs and organs.
Its mother’s blood does not circulate through the child
as it does through her hand, foot, liver or any other part
of her body. The mother and the child can die independently
of the other. Therefore, the child is not part of her in
the strict sense of the word. If the unborn child were part
of the mother, the mother would be incomplete before conception
and she would be incomplete after birth, which is clearly
Simply because the child
is defenceless and depends on the mother’s womb for security
and protection does not make the unborn child any less human.
It does not make it any less wrong to kill that unborn child.
A woman has as little right to kill an unborn child as she
has to kill a one or two-year-old child. No such right exists.
She has rights over her own body, but the unborn child is
The pro-abortion lobby argues
that an unborn child is not a child but a foetus. That lobby
obscures truth and reality with medical terms and fancy
language. It avoids calling a spade a spade. A foetus is
seen as less human and less real than the term "unborn
Norman Boyd NIUP: I
support the motion introduced by the hon Member for South
Down, Jim Wells, opposing the extension of the Abortion
Act 1967 to Northern Ireland. I oppose the Women’s Coalition
Amendment because I believe that the majority of Members
have considered the issue very carefully.
The Northern Ireland Unionist
Party is committed to the biblical principle of the sanctity
of human life. The basis of Christian morality is that human
life is sacred. We have pledged to protect the life of the
unborn child. Following the Abortion Act 1967, 5 million
abortions have taken place in Great Britain, where one baby
is killed by abortion every 3 minutes — that is 500 every
day, seven days a week. To put it bluntly, it is a massacre
of the innocent. One baby is killed by abortion in Great
Britain every three minutes. That is 500 every day, seven
days of the week. To put it bluntly, it is a massacre of
the innocents, that all too often leaves mothers mentally
or physically scarred for life.
Birth does not mark the
beginning of a new life. A new life begins in the womb.
At conception all the hereditary characteristics of the
new human being are established, eye colour and sex, for
example. Birth brings about a change in the baby’s environment,
not a change in the nature of the baby. The right to life
is an inalienable right of which an innocent human being
may not be deprived. All human life is of equal value. The
life of the child in the womb is neither more nor less important
than the life of the mother, but equally so. There is, therefore,
no moral objection to measures aimed solely at curing a
life-threatening condition in an expectant mother, even
if this may indirectly lead to the child’s death.
The ethical treatments available
in such circumstances do not involve deliberately killing
the baby. Serious medical problems which may arise later
in pregnancy, when the child is capable of surviving outside
the womb, may justify early delivery of the mother as long
as appropriate steps are taken to save the life of the baby.
Abortion is typically carried
out by the dismemberment, poisoning or the premature expulsion
of the unborn child. It is usually an invasive procedure
for the mother, which, even in the best hospital conditions,
carries risks to her physical health and often causes her
psychological harm. Fathers and other family members may
also suffer after an abortion. The ethics of health-care
professionals who take part in abortions are compromised,
and society as a whole is harmed by the tolerance of violence
against the unborn child.
In 1996 there were nearly
190,000 abortions in England, Scotland and Wales. A further
1,600 women from Northern Ireland had abortions in England
in the same year. In 1996 only 1% of abortions were carried
out because there was a substantial risk of the child’s
being seriously handicapped. Only 0.002% were carried out
to save the life of the woman. When the 1967 Abortion Act
was passed many felt it was necessary to deal with a small
number of women in particular situations. The Act has, however,
led virtually to abortion on demand.
Amendments under the Human
Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 brought in a new upper
time limit for most abortions of 24 weeks, and up to birth
if mental or physical handicap is suspected. Yet at 18 days
a baby’s heart is beating, by eight weeks all her body systems
are established, at 11 weeks she is breathing fluids. She
can also swallow, and her fingernails are present. By 13
weeks her taste buds are developed, and at 16 weeks she
Abortion of the disabled
is doubly discriminatory: it is a reminder of the inhumanity
of abortion, the attacking of the most vulnerable, those
most in need of protection, and an affront to all members
of the community here who are disabled. It sends a message
that they are inferior to and of less value than the able-bodied.
There can be many physical complications with abortion including
perforation, rupture of the uterus, pelvic infection, miscarriage
in later pregnancies, infertility and death of the mother.
At a major conference in
New Delhi in 1992 it was stated that legal abortion has
killed 200,000 women world-wide. The Royal College of General
Practitioners carried out a study over a 14-year period
on attitudes to abortion, which found that women obtaining
abortions were twice as likely to develop self-destructive
behaviour, such as taking drug overdoses, as those who decided
not to abort. They also had a 10 % increased chance of problems
such as anxiety and neurosis.
Medical research also shows
a link between abortion and breast cancer. Twenty-six studies
out of 32 world-wide show an increased risk of breast cancer
after an induced abortion. In the United States 12 out of
13 studies show the link.
I must refer now to the
press release yesterday from the Family Planning Association
for Northern Ireland. I take exception to its rather condescending
tone when it says
"Women are being failed
by their political representatives. Like it or not MLAs have
a duty to work on behalf of all their constituents."
Such attacks on elected
representatives do nothing to resolve the issue. I am confident
that my view on abortion is one that is held by the vast
majority of people in Northern Ireland. The case against
an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act is overwhelming, and
the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland would oppose
it. Once the sanctity of life is denied, the value of every
human life is in question. The growing pressure for euthanasia
is witness to this. It is essential, therefore, to maintain
the sanctity of life as a first priority.
The people of Northern Ireland
are hoping and praying for a new era of peace, but we must
not let our desire for peace blind us to the death threat
to our unborn babies. After over 30 years of terror and
violence, the last thing Northern Ireland needs is legislation
that will shed infinitely more lives than even the worst
terrorist atrocities. I support the motion.
David Ervine PUP: The
Member who introduced the motion set the scene clearly for
me when he described the foetus as "he, he, he."
Of course, we just had had the balance restored when the
foetus was described as "she, she, she."
Abortion is an extreme symptom
of the failures in society. Convince me that we offer adequate
sex education? Convince me that we offer availability and
accessibility for people to understand not only the reproductive
system, but the relationships they will have throughout
their lives with members of the opposite sex?
Mrs Carson eloquently stated
that the Dutch seem to be somewhat ahead of us on this matter.
They made abortion freely available, and when they did so,
what happened? Did lots of women dive at the opportunity
of having the most brutal form of contraception — abortion?
Indeed they did not. Actually, the figures dropped. As it
has been quoted, they have the lowest figures in Europe
and possibly even in the world.
The Dutch matched their
action with bombarding their children with the understanding
of how the rest of their lives would have to be lived. They
took control of their own destiny and of understanding the
importance of decisions they might make as children and
how those decisions might affect them in the future. We
have not done that. We have not remotely thought of doing
it. Those who are pro-life have a point — and I am not pro-abortion;
I am pro-choice. They have, lying more deeply at their core,
a desire for chastity and decency. I suppose they are reasonable
aspirations, but just simply trying to get someone to cross
their legs or keep their zip up does not seem to work.
In reality, there is an
awful stinking, painful route that is travelled by people
in our society — not just by women but by people. They are
not women, they are people, they are equals, and, indeed,
they are the majority. We sit here making decisions about
their lives without one iota of the pain, sorrow or suffering
that whatever decision they make in relation to abortion
will blight the rest of their lives as they see it at that
time. When they put their hands out like scales and try
to make their decision, the moral arguments we create do
not help them because there is right and wrong in each hand,
or in each side of the balance. In many ways, they do not
view it in terms of right or wrong or society’s moral values.
Essentially, it becomes
an imperative for them. It is something they must do. The
human being is faced, not only with trauma and difficulty,
but then we heap upon them a degree of admonishment, bitterness
and hatred. What I am hearing is that they are murderers.
When we talk about murderers, what about Belgrade, which
was recently pattern-bombed. What about Baghdad, which was
just pattern-bombed, or Dresden, which was pattern-bombed
in order to send a message loud and clear to Russia, or
Hiroshima — when we devastated it.
We, the politicians, are
the moral people who talk seriously about the ethics of
the medical profession. Is this a joke, or what? Politicians
who have consistently failed to bring peace to this society
are admonishing those people who are trying to bring a better
quality of life to our community. It just seems alien and
incredible to me.
The arguments can all be
emotional and I suppose I am getting emotional too, but
the reality is that we all have choices to make as human
beings. We would best be making those choices against the
backdrop of having the capacity to do so. Perhaps then,
people would not end up in the positions in which they find
themselves, taking that awful route because they were not
I hear much said about the
foetus, and I understand the arguments. Our party had to
have two party conferences in order for me to be able to
make a speech like this. In the last two years, 21 women
have died as a result of domestic violence. The safe houses
that society has to provide are packed to overcapacity as
we speak, and there is not one word said about it. This
male-dominated society is treating the majority like something
it walked in on its heel, and that is not acceptable.
In 1982, when this issue
was raised previously, it is my understanding — I dare say
I will be corrected if I am wrong — one Member opposed the
motion. More than one Member will oppose the motion today,
and when it comes up again, as it surely will, more Members
will oppose it. People are discriminated against by that
evil awful Britain who killed 5 million, those with whom
you want to be associated politically and socially, that
murderous evil Britain will extend the act. The act will
be extended eventually, and our people will be treated as
equals. They will be given the same opportunity to have
an abortion at the proper time, if one has to be had at
all, and consequently, one would hope that the number of
abortions would decrease rather than increase. But in reality
what we are constantly doing is heaping pain and more pain
on people who are incapable of taking that pain. There are
many thousands of nameless people out there who have gone
along that painful route. They will be listening today,
and, unfortunately, unless we get our act together, there
will be many thousands who will follow them. And what will
we do? Will we make moral arguments that will make popes
and moderators end up in the same camp?
Rev Dr Ian Paisley DUP:
This debate is about the preciousness and sanctity of
life. By that I mean the life of the mother as well as the
life of the child. I know that many hon Members may not
agree with what I will say today, for I take the traditional
Protestant line on this issue. I disagree when many Roman
Catholics in this House. I believe that the priority must
always be given to the mother whose life must come first
in all circumstances — that is the traditional Protestant
view and always has been.
We need to dwell on one
question today. Should the life of the babe in the womb,
at whatever stage, be protected, safeguarded and preserved?
It is interesting to note that all those who spoke in this
debate in favour of the amendment and in favour of abortion
never mentioned the child — they never mentioned the child.
They had much to say about the mother, but they made no
mention of the child. Should the child in the womb be protected,
safeguarded and preserved, or should it be destroyed — at
times wantonly and ruthlessly? It is not enough for people
to say that they do not like hearing a description of what
happens during an abortion. Such descriptions are based
on well-established facts. If the baby were outside the
mother’s womb, say in an incubator, and a member of the
general public or of the medical profession came along and
deliberately slaughtered it, such a person would be in breach
of the law and would be tried for murder. Do those who are
arguing for abortion say "No. Those who kill a child
when it is outside the womb should be subject to the same
laws as those who kill a child inside the womb"? They
cannot have it both ways. Yet, because the child is inside
its mother’s womb, we are told it can be slaughtered.
A mother has a voice and
can use that voice to defend her case. The women in this
House have spoken today and have made their points loudly
and clearly. Other women would take a different view and
make their points equally loudly and clearly. But who will
speak for the child, who cannot lobby or be represented,
whose voice cannot be heard? Yet that child will be the
victim of a barbarous deed.
As a public representative,
I shall speak for the child today, the child who feels,
who can recognise its mother’s voice and know pain, who
is a member of the human family and who has been given the
unique gift of human life. We cannot get away from that.
There may be some in this House who would like to do so,
but who should consider it very seriously indeed. Some people
misjudge the passion in our hearts today when we discuss
this. There is no apology needed when people have deeply
held views and express them sincerely and with passion.
Today we should listen to
the silent cries of those who cannot speak for themselves.
No matter how we vote at the end of this debate, we should
all realise that we are on most serious and solemn ground.
The Bible is the most ancient of all books, and I am old-fashioned
enough to believe that it is what it claims to be — the
Word of God. That will come as no surprise to any Member
of this House. In the Book of Psalms, which is part of the
Hebrew scriptures, covering both Judaism and Christianity,
"I will praise thee;
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous
are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right
well. My substance was not hid from thee, that I was made
in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts
of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being
unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written,
which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet
there was none of them."
That is the most beautiful
description of life and its secrets. That is why I plead
with hon Members today not to take upon themselves the destruction
of God’s own handiwork. We should not take it upon ourselves
to terminate that God-breathed vitality, nor should we lift
our hand against the circumstances of special sanctimony.
Clearly there are circumstances where physical or health
problems must be considered. That is the traditional view
of the Protestant Church. As I have already emphasised,
the priority is the mother, whose life must come first in
such physical circumstances. It has been argued that we
should do this and that. In closing, I say that many will
speak and say "Let the children die", but I wish
to raise my voice with others in this House to say: "Let
the children live".
Ivan Davis UUP: Mr
Ervine referred to the last debate that took place here
on this subject. For the record, it was 29 February 1984.
When the Division was called, there were 20 votes for and
1 against. I quote the late George Seawright, who spoke
in that debate. At the time, there was great trouble throughout
the Province with murders being committed daily. He said
"In Northern Ireland political
circles we have heard much of discrimination, we have heard
much about biased legislation, and we have heard much about
political philosophies that do not accept the rights of minorities,
but I can think of no minority group more tragic than those
innocent infants within the womb who this year, like every
other year, and perhaps in future years, will be put to death
simply because someone, with very twisted logic, believes
that a parent has the right to put her own child to death".
Many other Members said
similar things on that day.
I am glad that the Assembly
is tackling the abortion issue. It reflects well on Members
to address difficult issues as well as those with which
we can agree relatively easily. The abortion issue is probably
the most difficult one of all. I am glad that my party,
along with others, has extended a free vote. It would be
wrong for abortion to become a party political issue in
Debates on the abortion
issue usually revolve round the so-called hard cases — rape,
in particular. However, since the introduction of the Abortion
Act 1967, only 2% of the abortions performed have been a
result of rape, severe handicap or a real threat to the
life of the mother. Abortion is available to women in Northern
Ireland in those circumstances. Today, we are discussing
unlimited abortion on demand. The Lane Committee of 1974
concluded that that was the effect of the Abortion Act 1967,
which is limited only by the 24-week rule.
Unfortunately, the abortion
debate is often reduced to questions on when life begins.
I have not read the stories of the German Lutheran theologian,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I agree with what he said:
"To raise the question
whether we are here concerned already with a human being
or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is
that God certainly intended to create a human being."
To allow that intention
to be taken away on an à la carte basis would be wrong.
For all their differences, all religions would agree with
that view, whether they are Roman Catholic, Protestant,
Jewish or Muslim.
There are far too many unwanted
pregnancies in Northern Ireland. We have the highest birth
rate of any region in the European Union, but abortion is
not the answer. Fewer than 3% of abortions in England and
Wales are performed on women who have five children or more.
We must encourage the proper use of family planning, and
we should value our children more in our society.
I am not a medical expert,
but I am concerned by what I have read about the effects
of abortion on the mental and physical health of women.
Women who have had abortions find it much more difficult
to have children in later life. Of course, keeping the Abortion
Act 1967 off the Northern Ireland statute book will not
prevent women from seeking abortions across the water, but
it is a major deterrent.
The number of women recorded
as having travelled to England for abortions has fallen:
even as abortion has become less of a taboo. The number
travelling is far less than if the number of abortions in
Northern Ireland was proportionately the same as in England
and Wales, which are not such different societies from ours
in Northern Ireland. There can be no doubt that we have
a problem, but my favoured solution is for more funding
for unwanted pregnancy counselling, rather than an extension
to Northern Ireland of the Abortion Act 1967. That would
create an abortion culture, resulting in more abortions
in the long term. For all those reasons I support the motion.
Danny O’Connor SDLP:
I rise to support the motion standing in the name of
Jim Wells. I do so because I believe that abortion is fundamentally
wrong and against all the principles in which I believe.
I oppose the Amendment, Mr Speaker. We talk about pro-life
and pro-choice. Why do we not talk about pro-death and pro-murder?
That is what abortion is.
There are a few facts I
would like to share with the House today. Mr Wells and others
gave us facts and figures about the number of people going
to England for abortion on demand. I do not want to see
that happening in this country. We have heard about the
terrible crimes of rape and incest, but an abortion will
not undo those crimes. It will not take away the fact that
a crime has been committed. To punish an unborn child because
of that crime is morally wrong.
In Britain in 1996, out
of 190,000 abortions only three were carried out to save
the life of the mother. We have to think about the child
in question here. Dr Paisley quite rightly referred to it
as a child, other people tend to refer to it as a group
of cells or a foetus in order to try to dehumanise it. That
child is an individual growing in its mother’s womb — it
is not a part of the mother. Many people say "Oh, it
is the woman’s body; she should be allowed to choose what
happens." Mr Deputy Speaker, if I were to give you
a lift home today and decide to run my car into a brick
wall, would that be my right because it was my car? Or would
I have a moral responsibility to protect you? I feel that
it is the latter.
Another issue I want to
come back to is rape. In the United States the Supreme Court
allowed an abortion in the case of Roe versus Wade. A woman
known as Jane Roe, whose real name was Norma McCorvey, admitted
that her claim of rape was a total fabrication. She was
a woman intent on procuring an abortion. This is the danger
of extending this Act to Northern Ireland.
Fred Cobain UUP: Is
the Member saying that in order to obtain an abortion women
will be claiming rape? What a disgraceful thing to say!
Danny O’Connor: The
Member is deliberately misrepresenting what I am saying.
I am saying that there is the potential for the situation
to be abused. We have had calls for clarification of the
abortion law from the former Ministers, Mo Mowlam and John
McFall. Clarification of the abortion law will mean permissive
abortion in Northern Ireland. That is quite clearly what
it means. To say that handicapped children should be aborted
is totally wrong. Who is to say that a handicapped child
is less valuable or less loving than any other child? Certainly
I would like to quote from
the feminist author Mary Meekin, who stated in the Human
Life Review in 1983
"Honesty requires us to
say that it is unjust that a woman may carry her child through
rape or incest, it is far greater injustice to kill the child".
This is a rare situation
in which injustice cannot be avoided, and the best thing
that can be done is to reduce it. The first injustice lasts
for nine months of a life that can be relieved both psychologically
The second injustice ends
a life. There is no remedy for that. Yesterday and this
morning I received what could probably be described as junk
mail from Voice for Choice, from the family planning people
and from Alliance for Choice — that is not the Alliance
Party, I hasten to add — all saying how wrong it was for
this motion to be brought forward. I am glad it was brought
forward. This motion needs to be aired. I hope that it gets
the full support of the House. There will be some dissenters,
but I know where I stand on human rights. The human rights
of an unborn child are as important as the rights of any
one of us. I urge the House to support the motion.
Rev Dr William McCrea
DUP: There are people on every side of this issue who
hold deep and genuine views. There are also those who dismiss
my right to come to the House today and express my views.
They do so because I am merely a man, and therefore I have
no right to speak on matters that affect women. I was not
commissioned to come to the House by the men of Mid Ulster.
I come on behalf of all my constituents, whether male or
female. I have been lobbied by many ladies’ organisations
on this issue. I make no apology for my views, which I hold
passionately. I know that I represent the vast majority
of my constituents. I shall vote for my Friend Mr Wells’
As a public representative
it is my duty to give a lead to the people of this Province.
The people of Ulster need their leaders to speak clearly
on the issues of life and death. Should the Act that is
operated in England be brought into legislation here, it
would be a travesty of justice and democracy. The vast majority
of people, across the community, do not want it. By having
this debate, we are putting down a marker. I thank my hon
Friend for giving us this opportunity.
We have heard many voices
raised on behalf of those who desire abortion on demand.
My party leader, Dr Paisley, posed a pertinent question:
who will speak for the unborn child who has been silenced
by murder? There are charges laid against us. We have heard
them today. For example, it was said that this debate should
not take place because it would simply be a heated debate.
I have been here since the debate started, and I have heard
people speak passionately, but I have not heard a heated
debate. This place is all about debate. It is a debating
Chamber. It should deal with the important issues, and what
issue could be more important than the life or death of
a child? I speak as the father of five children.
We are told that this debate
should go upstairs. Why? Is this not the place for debate?
Is this not the place where the decisions are made? We are
told that we have no knowledge. Have we no knowledge of
this Act that was passed in England in 1967? Are we somehow
closed to knowledge, that we have not seen what it means?
There are those involved
in this debate who do not want us to see what abortion actually
is. You are walking on very dangerous ground if you happen
to talk about the suction of a child from its mother’s womb
or about tearing a child apart or about the dismembering
of its body, but that is what actually happens, yet they
do not want you to know that. They do not want you to know
about the pain of the child, or the cry of a child, which
is being taken from its mother’s womb where it was put by
God. But man has decided that no, the child will not stay
there. For some reason, it must be destroyed. Another aspect
of the tragedy is the talk about the child’s being unwanted.
Why is it unwanted? Is it because it does not suit their
social life? Is the child unwanted because it will disrupt
their plans for the future? So, for them to have their way,
this unwanted child has to be removed, so they murder him.
Make no mistake about it; call it whatever fancy name you
want; the child is murdered! Indeed, that is what has happened
to five million children.
I see a Member shaking her
head. She is disgusted I suppose. What fancy name would
you call it, I wonder? I hear people saying that men have
no sensitivity for women’s needs. I have been a pastor of
the same congregation for 32 years to the same congregation,
the majority of whom are women. I have never been charged
with being insensitive to the needs of those ladies, and
thank God for the many children that are therein. However,
I do remember a child being born once. You see, it was a
mongol, and the doctor had suggested getting rid of it.
I remember when the parents were told that they had a mongol
child. I sat in the hospital overnight with that child,
who is now 21 years old. Not an "it", "he"
is 21 years old. That child has given the sweetest love
to his mother and father for 21 years. It is not right that,
because he is regarded as disabled, he is less entitled
to the right of life than any of us in this Chamber. So
I listen to the charge. I cannot stop them from going to
England, but I can stop them from receiving my blessing
to murder their children.
Mary Nelis SF: Go
raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I am indebted to the
many people, female individuals and groups who lobbied our
party in respect of this debate. These responses illustrate
that we need to open the door to honest and reasoned debate
on what is a tragic dilemma for women. This is a dilemma
that is not being addressed, nor indeed will it be resolved,
by the DUP motion.
Using legislation that was
enacted to deal with one set of social circumstances to
deal with another set of social circumstances is illogical,
especially if one considers that abortion is legally available
in the North in certain circumstances. It must be stated
though that accessibility to such services is very limited.
However, there is no escaping the fact that around 7,000
Irish women, from the North and the South, travel abroad
each year to get abortions. Travelling abroad to other jurisdictions
has, therefore, become a safety valve for Irish women. The
alternative for women who have chosen this course is a return
to back-street abortions and all that that entails. It is
unfortunate, but understandable, that there is such polarisation
on the issue of abortion, with what have become the pro-life
and pro-choice camps. People, particularly women, who have
taken sides are motivated by a deep concern for the value
of human life, even if they have different political perspectives.
Many people who are anti-abortion
would consider abortion as an option in the case of rape
or where the life of the mother is threatened. By the same
token, many of those who are pro-choice, favouring the legislation,
do not believe that abortion is the answer to the complex
problems facing women in today’s society. There is also
the view that abortion is, primarily, violence against women
and a capitulation to the norms of patriarchy. However,
those who subscribe to that view would oppose any form of
legal sanction against it, because they recognise the need,
so far unmet, for more adequate and widespread change in
society at large, which would make abortion unnecessary.
As politicians, our response
to the tragic situations where women are put into absolutist
positions might be to work towards removing the conditions
of shame, economic circumstances and lack of education,
which place women in situations where they have no choice
except abortion. Many women are forced to make such stark
choices because motherhood, unlike fatherhood, is not easily
combined with other aspects of daily living. If we are obligated
to upholding the rights of women and children, we must work
towards creating a society where those women who choose
to have children can do so without economic penalties, and
with support through nursery and childcare facilities and
the recognition of the fundamental role of parenting. This
may not end abortions, but it would do more to decrease
their incidence than criminal sanctions.
Sinn Féin has debated this
issue in its party structures for many years, and it will
continue to debate it because the issue of abortion presents
us all with emotional, social and political questions. Our
party position is that we oppose abortion on demand or abortion
as a form of birth control. We accept the need for abortion
where a woman’s life and mental health is at risk or in
grave danger and in cases of rape and sexual abuse. We believe
that full information and non-directive pregnancy counselling,
embodying all choices, should be freely available. We totally
oppose those attitudes and forces in society that compel
women to have abortions and criminalise them for making
As a party, we acknowledge
the complex nature of the abortion issue. We have attempted
to deal with the matter in open and honest debate. Modern
technology has created genetically cloned sheep; life is
no longer arbitrary but planned; medical science has advanced
dramatically, and people go to outer space. Women, however,
are expected to bring children into the world irrespective
of whether they have the means to clothe or feed them, whether
their physical or mental health is broken and whether they
have been victims of a violent sexual attack, whether they
are suffering from AIDS or their children are suffering
from, or have been born with, HIV, and irrespective of whether
the children will die, before they are one year old, from
starvation, disease or a neutron bomb that preserves buildings
but wipes out human beings.
Life, and the right to life,
is not only about biological reproduction; it is about the
future child. This happens in an emotional and a social
context. Life is a gift entrusted to women and men. It must
never be reduced to a knee-jerk reaction. The tragic dilemma
of abortion, which sees women boarding boats and planes,
often in isolation and fear, is an indictment on us all.
It should never be an exercise in political point scoring.
My party therefore urges all Members to support the amendment
by the Women’s Coalition.
Eileen Bell A: This
afternoon we have heard a number of speeches, and their
substance was based primarily on personal conscience rather
than party attitudes. Therefore, I would like to put forward
my personal perspective.
I speak as a woman who has
lost children and who was told that she could not bear any
more. I was then told that I could not adopt children because
I was in a mixed marriage and therefore did not have a stable
faith in the home. I have two healthy nephews, although
they have difficult problems. One was born with no back
passage and a deficient kidney, and the other was born with
Down’s syndrome. They had no real security of future life,
and their parents were advised to abort or to turn off their
life support machines. They refused to do either, and those
children are now living with difficulty but are surrounded
with love and protected by us all. And I would not be without
them for a moment. However, abortion, though personally
unthinkable, is a complex issue for all of us in our capacity
as legislators and politicans. Alliance has always been
a party of freedom of conscience; a party which recognises
that although there is strong personal opinion against an
issue as sensitive as abortion, individual circumstances
must also be taken into account before decisions are made
and legislation is drawn up.
We as a party are not in
favour of imposing our personal opinions or prejudices,
especially before the needs of the public. Legislation should
be drawn up to allow for all eventualities. The criteria
of the 1967 Abortion Act are clear enough. Amendments could
be looked at for a number of matters. The one which I have
a problem with is the period of 24 weeks, which is considered
as unsafe in some areas. But, abortion on demand is not
an option under this legislation.
I do not know how Mr Wells
can be so certain of his facts when he talks about how most
women have their abortion under category c, which covers
cases where the pregnancy has not reached its twenty-fourth
week and where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve
risk greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, or injury
to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.
Obviously Mr Wells has never had to prove that in his own
circumstances. But I know women who have tried that and
found it impossible to satisfy those criteria. His facts
are sometimes a bit out of kilter.
At the moment, as others
have said, abortion is governed by the 1861 Offences against
the Person Act. As we are now in the twenty-first century,
do we not deserve better than nineteenth century legislation?
Currently we export the problem. Every year, thousands of
women travel to England at great expense in terms of time,
money and emotion.
Let there be no doubt about
the fact that, in spite of Mr McCrea’s comments, women do
not lightly choose to terminate any pregnancy. They do it
because they feel they must for a number of reasons such
as those already mentioned — rape, assault and age. Often
these women receive little or no counselling until they
arrive in England, because many of the organisations set
up to help women with these problems, and perhaps to help
prevent unwanted pregnancies, have suffered intimidation
and abuse as a result of their efforts to help people in
Suffering the pressures
of travel and worrying about the expense that they have
incurred, are we really to believe that these women are
in the best situation and circumstances to think about and
decide on the proper course of action? Are we really to
believe that we are best serving their interests by keeping
abortion largely illegal here? Because England is so close
it is easy for us to keep abortions both illegal and uncommon,
but it does not stop abortions from happening, and neither
will this motion. All it will do is keep consciences clear.
It is time for us to do
more than quieten our consciences. As my Colleague stated
earlier, abortion kills. We all know that, but we must look
at all of the issues and realise the ramifications of any
decision. As politicians and legislators, we must examine
the issue, listen to the needs of women and consult the
medical profession. This is best done over time and in Committee.
We do not seek to justify murder but to allow for the reality
of abortion within our society.
After mature thought — not
emotional, impassioned and political outbursts — the Committee
would be best equipped to make recommendations to the Secretary
of State. Let us bear that point in mind. We can make recommendations
to the Secretary of State only if all in the Chamber can
agree. He or she can then take our wishes into consideration
and act upon them. As things stand, we have no power in
respect of this issue and, in a sense, it matters not a
whit what we say today. Power rests in Westminster, and
so this debate could be said to be about sound bites, however
impassioned, rather than the needs of women. Because of
the complexity and sensitivity of this issue we need informed
and objective advice, and, therefore, I will support the
Abortion is too important
an issue to be decided on after four hours of debate. All
we are doing is posturing for the media, scoring political
points and trying to create the best sound bites. The women
Jim Wells: On a point
of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon
Lady from North Down to mislead the House? This is not a
political motion. There is a free vote amongst all of the
members of the DUP. It is not a DUP motion, it is one that
I have tabled. I seek the support of everyone, and I am
not doing this in a party political context.
Eileen Bell: I am
fully aware of that, but the Member cannot deny that there
are people who have been scoring political points and trying
to create the best sound bite. I believe my remarks to be
Women, people and, certainly,
the children — born and unborn — in Northern Ireland deserve
better. Life is precious. In 1993 and 1994 surveys showed
that three out of four people in Northern Ireland are in
favour of abortion. Let us take the time to act with the
courage that Prof McWilliams talked about. Let us do more
than make speeches during one afternoon in this Building.
Let us discuss the issue over time with consultation and
expert advice and support. Let us act responsibly and serve
with objectivity the people who elected us. I support the
Jane Morrice NIWC: I
support the amendment. In tabling this amendment the Women’s
Coalition is not promoting abortion; we are trying to ensure
that there is a mature and responsible debate to enable
the Assembly to make a well-informed decision about the
diverse reproductive health needs of women. The effect of
Mr Wells’s motion will be to close down the debate, and
this health issue is too important for that to happen. A
show of hands would not do this debate justice. Our amendment
will enable all elements to be examined, and we believe
it should be supported.
In fact, it is our belief
that we share, to a certain extent, a common aim with the
proposer of the motion. We also want to see the abortion
rate for Northern Ireland reduced. However, banning abortion
will not prevent it from happening. We have heard the figures:
more than 1,500 women travel from Northern Ireland to England
each year to procure terminations. Also, worryingly, a survey
conducted by Dr Colin Francome in 1994 found that 11% of
Northern Ireland general practitioners had encountered the
after effects of amateur, otherwise known as ‘backstreet’
The main effect of banning
abortion is to put women’s lives at risk. There have been
five known deaths in Northern Ireland as a result of backstreet
abortions since 1967. There have been no such deaths in
Britain in the same period. Additionally, very few of those
women who travel to Britain have six-week post-op appointment
with their own GP or counselling of any sort. This is so
important for their physical and mental health. It may also
have ramifications for their future fertility and their
What makes matters worse
is that outdated laws, dating from 1861, 1929 and 1945,
govern the legal situation in Northern Ireland. The courts
have since offered various interpretations of these laws
but in real terms, when doctors carry out abortions in Northern
Ireland and, as we have heard, they are carried out under
certain circumstances — they do not know whether they might
be subject to criminal proceedings. At the very least we
need to clarify the legal situation.
How do we go about reducing
the abortion rate? We could look at the experience of other
countries, and it is very interesting that two Members have
already mentioned one country in particular. Joan Carson
and David Ervine referred to the Netherlands, and it is
true that there are countries where progressive health and
family policies are cornerstones. We must address the fact
that more of our children are now entering adolescence at
the lowest age ever, sometimes around eight. Therefore good,
age-appropriate sex education is an important part of the
equation as well as free, and freely accessible, contraception.
We have heard the lowest
documented abortion rates are in the Netherlands and Belgium.
These are countries that rely on contraception and sex education
to maintain low fertility. What our amendment proposes is
to examine what the needs of women in Northern Ireland actually
are. We have an unacceptably high abortion rate, and we
need to find out why and determine what steps to take, whether
it be at policy level, legal level or both. There is no
doubt that this is a very difficult and a very delicate
subject about which everyone has an opinion, and we have
heard all shades this afternoon. I have listened to the
opinions expressed before me today, and I shall listen to
those after me. It is inappropriate to accuse as criminals,
the many thousands of women, young and old, who have had
abortions. The Women’s Coalition has established a working
group on reproductive rights and the group reflects the
range of views of coalition members. The group’s work has
brought challenges from all perspectives. We will conclude
the work soon, and I do not want to pre-empt the conclusions
here. It will suffice to say that it takes time, effort,
and a lot of research and patience to reach a position on
this complex issue. A four-hour divisive debate in the Assembly
cannot, and will not, do the subject justice.
Let us give the Secretary
of State a steer on this matter. Let us vote to refer this
complex issue to the Health, Social Services and Public
Safety Committee. I urge you to vote for the amendment and
against the motion. Thank you.
Alan McFarland UUP: Abortion
is a serious moral issue. At one level it is a choice between
killing a foetus and letting an unborn child live. On the
surface, it is an easy choice.
Deeply religious people
believe killing is wrong in any circumstance, and I respect
their right to that view. However, the issue of taking another
life is not that simple. We employ an army to defend our
country and kill the enemy, if that is necessary. That is
a moral dilemma.
Similarly, if your wife
and children are about to be slaughtered by a mad axe-murderer
and you have a gun in your hand, do you shoot, or do you
stand idly by? It would be a moral dilemma but perhaps not
There is an interesting
conundrum connected with the stance against abortion, particularly
in America, where many of those who vehemently oppose what
they see as the murder of unborn babies have no qualms about
shooting dead a doctor who carries out abortions. The morality
of killing is not an easy issue, and in some cases it is
surrounded by hypocrisy.
Other scenarios raise disturbing
moral issues. There is the married couple who, in their
forties, have a little too much wine on an Italian holiday
and realise that a new arrival would cause chaos to their
working life and existing family. More seriously, there
is the fourteen-year old school girl raped by an AIDS carrying
hoodlum. The assault brings with it the possibility that
she may become HIV positive. That would be enough concern
for the girl, without her going on to produce a HIV positive
child — a constant reminder of the trauma she had undergone.
Then there would be the discovery, through a scan, that
a baby is severely disabled, and the medical advice indicates
that the child is likely to have pain and little quality
of life. Is it right to bring such a child into the world?
Most of us do not have to
face these dilemmas, and it is extremely difficult for those
who do. The subject of abortion, particularly in Northern
Ireland, sends politicians scurrying for what they perceive
to be the moral high ground. That is a comfort zone in which
they can avoid having to seriously address the issue, and
it is occupied by many here today.
Abortion is lawful in Northern
Ireland. It is grounded in the Offences Against the Persons
Act 1861, together with Northern Ireland high court decisions
between 1991 and 1995 concerning individuals unable to prove
consent by reason of diminished mental competence or age,
minors, and wards of court who wish to terminate their pregnancies.
It would appear that termination
of pregnancy is lawful in Northern Ireland under the following
conditions; where there is a probable risk of an adverse
effect to the physical or mental health of the pregnant
women; where there is a probable risk of an adverse effect
to the physical or mental wellbeing of the mother; and where
there is a probable risk to the life of the pregnant women.
There is no provision for
lawful termination on the grounds of foetal abnormality,
although there are clear indications that such terminations
take place here. There is also no provision for termination
on the grounds of rape or incest, although opinion-poll
evidence suggests that strong popular support exists for
such a move.
Figures in 1998 show that
around 1,530 women living in Northern Ireland addresses
had abortions in Great Britain. Many others are likely not
to have given their addresses, so the real annual figure
is probably nearer 2,000. This is the political comfort
zone which I spoke of. Some might say that we do not need
to examine this issue: those who get pregnant can nip over
on the plane and be back the next day, so our conscience
is clear. The bad news for those in the comfort zone is
that they will not be there for much longer. We in Northern
Ireland are about to be overtaken by two waves, which will
force us to address this issue properly.
First, there are to will
be legal challenges in the area of human rights, particularly
with regard to privacy rights, the right of the woman to
choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, and gender
equality: prohibiting abortion has an impact on the life
of a woman that cannot be equally imposed on a man.
Secondly, there have been
rapid advances in biotechnology, and developments in prenatal,
genetic diagnostic techniques allow early identification
of genetic abnormalities. In addition, new embryonic stem-cell
technology may offer therapies for many degenerative diseases.
Such methods require interference with early embryos and
foetuses. There is likely to be immense pressure for the
law to be changed at Westminster, and here, to allow advantage
to be taken of such medical advances.
Those who are fundamental
in their beliefs will take a clear view on the issue of
abortion. I believe that it is a complex issue and that
a substantial amount of study is required before those who
take a less idealistic view can take an informed decision.
This would be a suitable
subject for examination by the Health Committee, which could
then report to the Assembly, but it would take a substantial
amount of time. It is too early for the Committee to be
addressing such a serious issue. The Committee needs to
bed down with less potentially divisive topics. We need
to address the issue of abortion in detail, but not now.
Alban Maginness SDLP:
Assembly Member Jane Morrice says that the effect of
the motion today is to close down the debate on abortion.
In fact, it does nothing of the sort, and I am disappointed
that an amendment has been moved, because that amendment
does nothing to deal with the substance of this motion,
which is, abortion on demand. That is what this debate is
all about. It is not about abortion per se; it is about
abortion on demand.
The Abortion Act 1967 effectively
created a climate of medical opinion and of legal opinion
that made abortion on demand possible. I do not believe
that Mr David Steel or Mr Roy Jenkins, as they were then,
both of whom were the architects of that Act, co-authors
as it were, intended, or fully intended, that abortion on
demand should be introduced to Great Britain. But the fact
is that it was, and we know that from our empirical observations,
and we know that from the Lane Committee, which declared
that this Act had produced abortion upon demand. The Act
gives doctors freedom, perhaps too much freedom, to put
their interpretations on the concepts of health. One can
think of the 1948 World Health Organization’s definition
of health, which says that it is a state of physical, mental
and social well-being, and does not merely mean the absence
of disease or infirmity. Applying that definition, if one
were a doctor, could put a wider interpretation on the physical
and mental-health concept than those who took a strictly
medical view. And that is, in effect, what has been happening
in Britain over the past 40 years.
Doctors have interpreted
widely the power afforded to them, diagnostically and otherwise,
within this Act. That has led to the situation of abortion
on demand, and it is that which the House is asked to deal
with today — not abortion, but abortion on demand.
Does the House believe that
we should endorse abortion on demand? I believe that we
should not, and Mr Wells, who moved the motion, has done
a good service to the House and to the community by saying
clearly that we do not. Producing an amendment which does
not tackle this is evading the issue. I wish to see the
Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee and,
at a later stage, the House dealing with it, and the Committee
is in no way constricted by the passing of this motion from
dealing with the matter anyway.
David Ervine: Will
the Member show me where the motion states that this is
about abortion on demand?
Alban Maginness: It
is not just implicit but explicit in the motion, and if
the Member cannot see that, he is totally —
David Ervine: On
a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Member constantly
uses the words "explicit" and "implicit"
with reference to the motion. We are not stupid; we can
read what the motion says.
Alban Maginness: If
the Member is being deliberately obtuse, I cannot help that.
Although the Abortion Act
1967 is bad, the amendment by way of the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Act 1990 is even worse, for it gives us a
24-week limit — and that is probably the longest in Europe.
Holland is the only comparable country. Abortions are effectively
legal when performed in the second trimester, and surely
that is appalling. In most other jurisdictions, one is confined
to the limits of the first trimester at least.
The additional removal of
time limits on the grounds of foetal handicap and in relation
to the life of the pregnant woman or to grave and permanent
injury to her physical and mental health also does much
to erode the protection of the unborn. I hope that this
motion also effectively refers to the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Act 1990.
Jim Wells: That is
an important point. We attempted to table an amendment to
the motion to include that, but unfortunately it was too
late, and the Speaker ruled it out of order. The intention,
however, is to prevent abortion on demand in any form in
Northern Ireland, be it under the 1967 Act, the 1990 Act,
or any amendment to either.
Alban Maginness: I
thank the Member for that intervention. The Human Fertility
and Embryology Act 1990 which amended the Abortion Act 1967
effectively presents the House with the 1967 Act as amended.
A further amendment by Mr Wells would not in those circumstances
We are concerned on the
issue of abortion with competing rights, those of the mother,
those of the father and those of the unborn child. Those
are three competing sets of rights, and we in this jurisdiction,
as in any other jurisdiction, shall have to devise ways
and means of reconciling them. It is wrong simply to say
that there is only one party in this difficult situation
that has a right, that being the mother. There are two other
sets of rights, and they must also be weighed in the balance.
One cannot simply deal with one set of rights exclusively.
There is a strong case to
be made for the unborn under article 2 of the European Convention
on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life, so
the rights of the unborn can in fact be safeguarded under
that European Convention. To date, legal challenge has failed
in relation to that aspect, but given legal developments
and the advances in medical science, that may soon be achieved
with the European Court.
Once again we find ourselves
debating something in this Chamber which, strictly speaking,
does not come under our purview as an Assembly. More and
more we will come to see that devolution is, unfortunately,
very limited. We have seen that in the Appropriation debate
and in other debates in this House. We must move eventually
to maximise the power that we can have within this jurisdiction
to organise our own lives. This is one area where, in fact,
we should be able to exercise that right and that authority.
I support the motion.
Mervyn Carrick DUP: As
a public representative, I am very happy to speak on behalf
of the unborn child. Irrespective of what has been said
earlier in the debate, I trust that my remarks will not
be construed as political or ill-informed. This debate on
abortion has been going on for many years. It is not just
confined to this four-hour session. The contributions already
made by Members show informed opinion about the subject.
I do not underestimate the
serious moral, medical and social issues involved. Since
the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967 in England, Scotland
and Wales it is reported that 180,000 babies have been killed
each year by abortion. Prof McWilliams has already referred
to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. During
the Committee Stage of that Bill, pro-abortion MP Emma Nicholson
"The Committee should
step away immediately from the fiction that the 1967 Act does
not provide abortion on request — of course it does."
in my constituency and elsewhere tell that it is virtually
impossible for a doctor to refuse an abortion order under
the working of the 1967 Act."
These words are from Hansard
of 24 April 1990. The issue at stake when discussing abortion
is of course the termination of life of an unborn child.
Abortion is the destruction of human life. Abortion is the
unlawful killing of children, which of course is murder.
The Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, on which the current
law in Northern Ireland is based, recognises four special
circumstances where abortion may be carried out. Those have
already been referred to on one or two occasions in the
debate, and I will not repeat them.
There are built into the
legislation the necessary safeguards to cover the special
extenuating circumstances that have already been outlined
in the debate. Indeed, there are probably those who would
have moral difficulties in accepting the exceptions. However,
I am of the view that there is no need for the extension
of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.
The right-to-choose lobby
in the pro-abortion camp cannot sustain its argument if
a mother’s action is to kill another human being — her unborn
child. The right to life cannot be replaced by the right
to choose to kill. The thought of such a philosophy is absurd
and revolting in the extreme.
Abortion is a war on youth.
It is the wanton and deliberate killing of the youngest
and most defenceless of all young people — an unborn child.
It is also war on women — a war that is disguised as the
promotion of their rights. Abortion has devastating physical
and mental effects on mothers, a condition which is now
recognised as post-abortion syndrome.
When we talk of abortion
we are talking about humans — unborn children. Sometimes
there is an unenlightened view of the unborn child as if
that child were something less than human, or subhuman.
Yet a child is a living being right from the time of conception.
I lament that the child in the womb is not regarded as having
any rights. It is both ironic and tragic that animals which,
according to the Bible, we are entitled to kill and eat
are afforded greater rights and protection than human beings
whom the Lord says we must not kill. The Bible, which, as
a Protestant, I accept as the authoritative, infallible
word of God, and which I regard as my only rule of faith
and practice, teaches plainly that the unborn child is viewed
by God as an individual, a human being with a soul and with
all the properties that we attribute to an adult, except
that of full physical development. For instance, Jeremiah,
the prophet, was informed by God
"Before I formed thee
in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out
of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet
unto the nations."
One cannot rationalise,
explain away or excuse murder. It is not saintly to promote
the legalisation of abortion. It is more like an unblushing
apology for mass murder. Greater access to abortion in our
country will surely lead to a litany of broken hearts, ruined
lives, butchered babies and the descent of the judgement
of God. That price is too high. I support Mr Wells’s motion.
John Kelly SF: Go
raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. As has already
been said, Sinn Féin has been debating this issue for many
years and will continue to do so. I was struck by Dr Paisley’s
reasoned contribution when he said that the life of the
mother comes first, and that her physical and mental circumstances
should be considered. That is not far from the Sinn Féin
position on this vexing and emotive issue.
A LeasCheann Comhairle.
The right to life is fundamental. It should be approached
with compassion and not with any idea of criminality. It
should not criminalise the women who find themselves in
circumstances that are beyond their control.
Compassion should underlie
our views in this debate. I was apprehensive when I saw
this motion put down. I am not sure whether this is a proper
forum for discussing an issue that goes to the heart of
our humanity, both male and female. It is an issue that
questions our attitude to life in a fundamental way. It
asks where life begins and when, and in what circumstances,
it should be terminated. It brings into play all our emotions
about life. It raises the vexed issue of the handicapped
and those who are perceived to be handicapped from conception
in their mother’s womb. I agree with the Members who have
said that one can have nothing but admiration for the way
the mothers of handicapped children care for them. They
did not know that their children would be handicapped, but
when they found out they were able to deal with it in a
humane, human and motherly fashion.
I want to take up Seamus
Close’s point about the medical profession. I have twin
grandchildren who were born in Antrim Hospital three months
premature. They were smaller than the glass in my hand.
For two months doctors and nurses in the maternity unit
worked round the clock to preserve those two lives. That
in itself was a lesson — for me and, I think, for all the
rest of us — that there are people in the medical profession
who are conscious of their oath to preserve, maintain and
care for life. There are others who take advantage of the
circumstances that women find themselves in to abuse their
profession by offering abortion on demand. Alban Maginness
said that this debate is about abortion on demand. I hope
that that is not so. I hope that it is about us attempting
to take a compassionate, longer view of this vexed issue.
We saw what happened in
the Twenty-six Counties — the Free State — and the mess
that they found themselves in with the way they went about
their abortion referendum after the "X" case.
They still have not resolved it, despite all the laws, the
barristers, the solicitors and the doctors. They still have
not found a way out of their dilemma. Abortion is an emotive
issue that affects not just Ireland but England, Europe
and America. We have had the contradiction of pro-life people
murdering abortion supporters. That highlights the contradiction
— and almost makes me want to oppose anything you or your
party colleagues have said. We are talking about an emotional
situation. Let us do it in a reasoned way, and not have
your stupid and asinine interventions.
As I said, a LeasCheann
Comhairle, this is an issue that has aroused emotions throughout
the world. We have had pro-life people taking the lives
of those they consider to be on the abortion side. Those
are the contradictions and emotions that this debate can
let loose. That is why I support the amendment. We should
take a reasoned, compassionate and unemotional approach
to the essence of life: the unborn.
Dr Esmond Birnie UUP:
It has been stressed repeatedly that this is a very
serious subject, perhaps one of the most weighty that the
Assembly can consider. It is not an issue which is directly
within our legislative competence, although this could change
in the future. By supporting the motion and, by implication,
opposing the extension of the 1967 Act provisions from Great
Britain to Northern Ireland, I do not wish to demonise those
who support wider access to abortion or those who have,
regrettably, felt forced to have an abortion. Nevertheless,
I believe that the 1967 Act, as modified in 1990, was wrong
in principle for Great Britain and would also be wrong for
Northern Ireland if we chose to adopt it.
There are several reasons
for supporting the motion, and the first relates to the
perennial question, which has been referred to several times
this afternoon: when does life begin? Like many in the House
I believe that a combination of the precautionary principle,
that is erring on the side of caution, Judaeo-Christian
tradition and the insights of modern medical science point
to life’s beginning at conception. Even if one does not
take that view, it remains clear that the practice of the
1967 and 1990 Abortion Acts allows for the destruction of
foetuses which are highly developed in human terms.
Secondly, the 1967 Act,
whatever its authors intended, provides for abortion on
demand. This is not a matter for controversy. Statistics
indicate that, in most cases, abortions have been carried
out for social and economic reasons — in many cases, for
reasons of convenience.
Thirdly, despite claims
to the contrary, the majority of opinion in Northern Ireland
is against liberalisation of the law. This was recently
confirmed in a Queen’s University poll, which was published
in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ on 22 February 2000.
Fourthly, while there may
be cases, the so-called hard cases, where abortion is the
lesser of two evils, these represent only a very small percentage
— perhaps up to 3% — of all abortions currently taking place
in Great Britain, and existing law in Northern Ireland (and
this has been referred to by other Members) permits abortion
in these cases. The cry has gone up, to some degree, for
clarification of the law. The same cry for clarification
was also made by the principal author of the 1967 Westminster
Abortion Act — David, Lord Steel.
Finally, several Members
have claimed that our current position on abortion is hypocritical,
that we export the problem, and we salve our consciences.
In 1998 almost 1,600 women from Northern Ireland travelled
to Great Britain to have an abortion. I regret that. There
is an onus on society — particularly on those of us who
oppose abortion in principle — to develop fully compassionate
alternatives. This would include, for example, better counselling
services. I have little doubt that if the provisions of
the 1967 Act applied in Northern Ireland the 1,600 abortions
of Northern Ireland origin would be multiplied by two to
three, with a consequent increase in human misery. Therefore
I support the motion and reject the amendment.
Tommy Gallagher SDLP:
I agree with the Member who said that the debate was
about a weighty and powerful issue. I welcome the debate
on this issue.
The Health Committee of
the Assembly can do much valuable work, particularly in
those areas which deal with providing care and support for
pregnant mothers. We can provide support, especially in
cases where mothers experience difficult pregnancies through
medical reasons, and, for example, where they suffer from
poverty and inadequate resources.
However, the motion is explicit:
it asks us whether or not we support the extension of the
1967 Abortion Act. Respect for life is an important principle
for most of us, and for most Christians, and extends to
respect for the life of the unborn. Some of the arguments
that we have heard earlier today concentrated on the rights
of the mother, and the danger to the physical and mental
health of the mother of an unwanted pregnancy. The mother’s
rights must be respected and protected, and her right to
life means she is entitled to any treatment necessary to
protect her life, even if as a result, the foetus is lost.
However, the abortion debate
is not about life-saving treatment for the mother. The Royal
College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reported on
unplanned pregnancy in 1972. Referring to the life-saving
treatment, it said
"It is becoming increasingly
recognised that there is no such danger of injury in the
majority of these cases, as the indication is purely a social
The hundreds of thousands
of abortions every year since the legalising of abortion
are performed for what is termed social reasons. This is
not to suggest that an unwanted pregnancy is a trivial matter
for the mother, but her distress and her rights must be
weighed against the fundamental right to life of all, including
the unborn. We must remember that direct killing of the
innocent is always wrong and that no motive, however good,
can justify an action which, in itself, is wrong.
The figures for 1996, which
are the latest available, showed the number of abortions
as 177,225. In one category — risk to life of mother — 138
abortions were carried out. In category B, to prevent grave
permanent injury to the mother, there were 2,471 abortions.
Under category F, to secure the mother’s life, there were
three abortions. These figures show that only a small percentage
of abortions are being carried out for serious medical reasons.
An Act which was claimed
to have been designed to protect mothers from backstreet
abortionists, and was to be used to ensure safe abortions
for mothers whose lives were endangered by pregnancy, is
now interpreted in such a way as to make abortion available
virtually on demand. There have been very worthwhile contributions
for a couple of hours.
We have heard references
to the new beginning that we are embarking upon in this
society, and it has been said that we do not have all the
answers to this difficult question, that we need an inquiry.
I have no difficulty with that. I have no doubt that it
would be helpful.
Other Members have told
us that, rather than take a vote on this today, we should
take a longer view and get some clarification. However,
one thing is crystal clear now: if we are serious about
creating a just society, we must uphold the fundamental
principle of the right to life. That means not just opposing
abortion, but working to create a society in which all life
is valued and in which that is reflected in how we look
after the needs of the most vulnerable, especially the children
and the unborn children.
Edwin Poots DUP: This
is certainly a very appropriate debate. Judging by the number
of people listening to it in the Strangers’ Gallery and
the number of people who have put their names down to speak,
it is obvious that it is a debate that touches people’s
deepest emotions and their feelings about how things should
be done in our country.
I welcome Mr Wells’s bringing
this motion before the House and thank him for the way in
which he moved it. I had intended to go through many of
the details, but much of that has been covered already,
so I will concentrate on responding to some of the points
that have been raised by other Members.
First, I would like to deal
with the issue of abortion on demand. People have said that,
legally, we do not have abortion on demand. Well, we may
not have it de jure, but we do have it de facto.
The simple fact is that the 5·25 million people who had
abortions in the United Kingdom over the past 33 years were
not raped and their lives were not at grave risk. Many of
them had an abortion because a child did not suit their
social or career aspirations. A whole host of reasons, but
not medical reasons, were put forward so those people could
This is something which
comes right home to me. I cannot accept that abortion is
right or proper. Consider eastern Europe in the Communist
era, where abortion was a common practice. In Russia, for
example, 70% of pregnancies ended in abortion, and each
woman had on average five abortions. Since the fall of the
Berlin Wall and the end of Communism, countries such as
Poland and Croatia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia
have seen a fall in the number of abortions. They have more
respect for life and for the life of the unborn child.
I have heard the Women’s
Coalition representative speak many times, particularly
on the issue of child abuse, and I respect the arguments
that she puts forward on that issue. She articulates them
very well. However, in this situation, she is proposing
the abuse of the unborn child. What choice does the child
have in this situation? Pro-choice is pro-death. That may
sound emotive, but it is a fact: pro-choice is pro-death.
The child has no choice; he is aborted if his mother so
chooses, and that is completely and utterly wrong.
Seventy per cent of children
born between 20 and 25 weeks will live, given the proper
care. Yet we allow those children to be aborted. Some hospitals
are working to keep children alive, while other hospitals
are killing them.
Whether the child is inside
or outside the womb, it is still a child. I have heard different
so-called women’s rights activists — I question this description
because 50% of the children who are aborted would have grown
up to be women — saying that if a child were taken out of
its mother’s womb, it could not live. However, if a child
were born after a full-term pregnancy and left to its own
devices at the age of one day, two days, a week, or a month
old, it could not live. It needs the care of an adult, preferably
its mother and father. So that argument can not be sustained.
I am more concerned about
the lives of the children than anything else — with the
one exception that the mother’s life must come first, but
this is already allowed for in law. If we were to introduce
the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland, the child’s life
would become of little or no consequence.
Medical evidence has proven
that abortion increases the chance of breast cancer by 50%.
This is another issue that presents a clear problem for
women, and yet we have women’s activists promoting abortion,
something that will eventually lead to more women dying
of breast cancer. Women must look at this issue realistically
and act in their best interests as well as those of the
The good Protestants, Roman
Catholics and dissenters in the Assembly will back the motion
because it is one that protects life and the right to life.
Some of those who are opposed to the motion were happy enough
to be the apologists for murder in our Province over the
past number of years, and so it is not surprising that they
are content to allow unborn children to be murdered. The
use of the word "murder" in this situation may
sound like emotive language, but that is what it is. The
child is sucked out of the mother’s womb against its will,
it is dismembered and destroyed. Surely that child has a
right to life.
I have heard the arguments
about aborting children with mental handicaps. I have a
brother who is severely mentally handicapped, and I never
once heard my mother say that she wished she did not have
him. Many of us can benefit from having a child who has
a form of handicap, and it is wrong that that child’s life
should be destroyed because of it.
PJ Bradley SDLP: I
agree with the belief from teachings, expressed by so many
Members today, that human life must be recognised and respected
from conception. The right to life must not be denied to
those unable to defend themselves, or to those yet unable
to make a case as to why they should be allowed to live.
Is it not a contradiction for some to champion the cause
of civil and human rights 99% of the time and, then, conveniently,
switch to defend the denial of life to a human yet unborn?
In supporting the motion,
I endorse the belief that abortion must never be used as
a means of birth control, or as a measure to deny life to
a child created by God — the same God that most of us believe
in and follow in a variety of ways. I have demonstrated
respect for life throughout my political career, and I am
pleased to be given the opportunity, through Mr Wells’s
motion, to continue to do so.
Paul Berry DUP: It
is with great pleasure that I support this motion, and I
commend my Colleague Jim Wells for tabling it.
The motion raises many important
issues. It is not about rights. That is the lie constantly
pedalled by pro-abortionists. The reality that they prefer
not to consider is that what they want aborted is a person.
They reject that principle and refuse to use the terms child,
baby, or unborn baby. They begin by denigrating the unborn
baby, slandering it and calling it names to make abortion
more acceptable. By reducing the unborn baby to nothing
more than the equivalent of a boil, they hope to remove
the shock and vileness of what they are advocating.
Even Claire Rayner agrees
that abortion is messy, distressing, bad and difficult,
which explains post-abortion syndrome. By reducing the unborn
to a thing, pro-abortionists can salve their consciences.
It is not an issue of religious prejudice over freedom,
as pro-abortionists would like. They must begin by rejecting
the fundamental principles of Christianity. They deny that
God has set down principles by which we should live. It
is not simply an issue of Christian principle versus nothing.
Pro-abortionists have a religious dogma — a hatred of certainty,
a hatred of the law of God, and a hatred of the image of
God, which is the religious philosophy of Christianity.
Pro-abortionists like to
remind us how many women have to travel to England to seek
abortions. They fail to point out that the overwhelming
bulk of abortions are for purely social reasons. Very few
are because the mother’s life is at risk. The issue is about
cramping women’s personal style. It is about their perceived
loss of freedom to do all the things that they want. They
see the child as an enemy who must be eliminated. That is
why they have abortions. Pro-abortionists want the rest
of society to participate in public wickedness. They deliberately
fail to acknowledge that by insisting on legalising abortion,
they want everyone else to subside sin.
The obligates of abortion
want the opportunity to practise their vileness, not abroad,
but at home at our front door. This is a moral issue of
great magnitude. Abortion is but a step to other issues.
The pro-abortionists conveniently ignore the hard facts
about what happens next. They ignore the fact that the arguments
that they use in support of abortion, are the same as those
used to justify infanticide.
This issue is not about
confusion in our law. Pro-abortionists like to pretend that
the current legislation is very confusing and that no-one
is sure of the correct position, not even doctors. That
is what pro-abortionists would like us to believe, but it
is because the law is clear that they say that; it is nothing
more than a red herring. Were the law to allow abortion
on demand, which is the reality in England, they would not
have had to deliberately falsify the position. The law is
quite simple. There are circumstances when abortion is allowed,
and circumstances when it is not.
The pro-abortionists have
led a very dirty campaign. One old chestnut, which has succeeded
in the past, is about the danger of back-street abortions.
They claimed that mothers wanted abortions so badly that
they went to the back streets and then died. Pro-abortionists
wanted to paint a picture of unrelieved blackness. It is
a known fact that in this country, very few back-streets
abortions are carried out. Since 1967, scores of women have
died, and women are continuing to die every week as a result
of legalised abortion.
The pro-abortionists do
not want to mention that cost because their real goal is
to have a service with only one purpose, and that is to
make sure that their lives are not hampered in any way.
They are purely selfless and social reasons.
I am glad to listen to the
Chairman and members of the Health Committee. I have had
the pleasure of working with them in Committee meetings.
I support the motion and I am glad that they also support
it. I do not support the amendment. Certainly, I would welcome
it in the future, as the Chairman, Dr Hendron, said, the
issue would be raised at the Health Committee meeting —
and that is the place where the where it should be raised.
It is also very important that the Assembly sends out a
clear message that it supports the motion put forward by
Mr Wells. I am glad that we are speaking for the motion
and I support all the people who have spoken in favour of
Maurice Morrow DUP: I
support the motion. If we are guided by the principle that
the right to life is sacred then the only conclusion we
can reach is to support the motion. There have been some
excellent contributions to the debate, although I doubt
if any surpassed that of Mr Close. It was an excellent speech
and I want to publicly congratulate him on it. It was regrettable
that Mr Kelly of Sinn Feín should decide to cite the speech
for some degree of criticism. It was very much misplaced
indeed and I say well done to Mr Close.
Those who declared that
they would not be supporting the motion, without exception,
only considered the rights of the mother. No mention, or
indeed very little mention, has been made of the rights
of the unborn child.
It is a fact of life that
if what is done to the child in the mother’s womb were to
be done to the same child in an incubator, a charge of murder
would be considered and in most cases a prosecution would
be brought. It is also a fact that where abortion is legal,
violence against children is greater. Where human life is
afforded less respect than many forms of animal life, the
rights of children always suffer.
If every unborn child could
be asked, before it is to be aborted, "Do you wish
to live or die?" could we as an Assembly assume what
the overwhelmingly response would be? I have no doubt that
the answer would be a resounding "Yes, we want to live."
There must be something tragically wrong with a society
that will, on one hand, say it is all right to kill an unborn
child but, on the other hand, boldly declare that it is
wrong to have capital punishment for those who commit murder.
That demands some explanation from society. Many people
raise their voices in protest and their hands in horror
at what they call blood sports, or experimentation on live
animals, when at the same time society can condone, and
produce within its ranks, a strong lobby for the killing
of the unborn children by the million.
We are talking about humans
today. We are talking about unborn children. I understand
that the baby’s heart is already beating 23 days after conception.
As early as two months after conception the baby can grab
an instrument in its palm and after nine weeks it can suck
its thumb. After three months the baby can kick its legs
and feet. It has its own fingerprints — very significant
because fingerprints are what distinguish us, one from another.
It starts to breathe through the umbilical cord. It has
already reached a stage where it is perfectly formed, where
it has its own personality, yet under the Abortion Act 1967
that little human being can be destroyed.
Someone described the unborn
child as history’s most pitiful victim. My party leader
today posed the question: who will speak out in defence
of the child? I trust that the Assembly will speak out today
and that it will have to be said that the majority of Members
were prepared to vote in favour of defending those who cannot
Society is often judged
by how it treats its old and aged. It is also judged by
how it treats its young and very young. In this case it
will be judged by how it treats its unborn. I trust that
today the Assembly will rise up in defence of those who
are in no position to defend themselves. I fully support
Alex Attwood SDLP: I
did not intend to contribute to this debate. The last time
I spoke on this issue was at the thirteenth Annual Conference
of the SDLP, which was a long time ago. The contribution
I made at that time is basically the same as the one I want
to make now.
When Dr Hendron replied
to the debate which Jim Wells opened, he stated the SDLP’s
policy on abortion. Its policy is to oppose it. It is also
to understand the social, economic and personal circumstances
that give rise to women choosing an option that most in
our society do not agree with — abortion. That is the policy
of the SDLP, crafted 13 years ago, and that remains its
policy. It is important that that is understood and acknowledged.
This issue is very often
debated in an extremist and emotional manner. My sense is
that this debate, which I have not heard in full, has not
been characterised in that way. In the South of Ireland,
a place for which I have a great deal of affection, very
often this debate in the last decade or so has been characterised
not only by deep emotional commitment but also by extremist
language and behaviour.
It is a credit to the Assembly,
and may be, to a degree, a reflection of the responsibility
in the wider society, that this debate has not been similarly
characterised. It is also extremely healthy that a number
of Members have said that whatever their views on this motion
or the amendment, they have a responsibility to go back
to this issue in its wider context in the Committee. That
is a positive reflection upon everybody in this Chamber.
Whatever our differences on this issue — and there may not
be many — there is a wider social, community and personal
context that has to be addressed if this issue is to be
more properly understood and managed by us as politicians
and by the wider society.
In a previous public role
I had some involvement with people who were choosing the
option of abortion.
It was easy neither for
those people nor for those of us who had some degree of
responsibility in that context.
The thing that struck me
about those women placed in a position where they considered
the option of abortion was that they were not selfish, but
rather deeply confused and unhappy with the circumstances
that had arisen. It was not disrespect for life that led
them to choose abortion, but the unhappy and difficult personal
circumstances in which they found themselves.
When we deal with this issue
we have to acknowledge that, while there are people and
societies that choose abortion as a form of contraception,
the vast majority of women choose abortion, even if my party
and I disagree with that option, it is in circumstances
characterised by their unhappiness and confusion and by
the difficulty of the circumstances in which they find themselves.
While I have a moral and personal view, I find it difficult
to make a judgement about their situations because their
circumstances are so difficult that I cannot conceive of
them, and I shall never have to.
I hope that when this matter
goes to the Committee it will begin to look at the personal,
social, economic and cultural reasons for abortions being
such an option for so many people on this island and elsewhere.
I refer to cultural issues because our society has developed
to the point where consumerism and self-interest rather
than a sense of collective responsibility and responsibility
to the vulnerable often define our personal culture. This
has led to abortions becoming an option and, very often,
an easy option for people, and when our culture and values
have changed so much that an option of that nature is easily
adopted, the issue is much more profound than the circumstances
in which these women find themselves.
I also hope that the personal,
social and economic issues that have given rise to this
culture and this option are more fully explored, for if
our young people are not adequately aware of birth control
and the need for individuals to take responsibility, they
may also behave in an irresponsible manner.
Unless pregnant women are
given every reasonable support, be it financial, psychological
or emotional, and especially where circumstances are particularly
difficult — where the pregnancy is unwanted, or the mother
is alone — we will create the circumstances in which they
will opt for abortion. They will not opt for life and for
bringing up their children in circumstances that are best
for all unless we create those circumstances.
Jim Shannon DUP: The
most basic of all human rights is the right to life. No
amount of argument, discussion, debate or analysis could
ever undermine that fact. In the huge majority of cases,
this assertion can be applied without any further thought
or question. While I believe that abortion represents a
moral issue, I must also emphasise that the wish to prevent
birth for purely selfish reasons, such as merely not wanting
a child, is in no way, shape or form an acceptable reason
for terminating a pregnancy.
There is no way in which
the reasons for an individual’s wish to terminate her pregnancy
can be standard. Because there can be no defined basis upon
which any blanket decision can be made, we can do one of
First, we could apply a
rule across the board that in no circumstances, irrespective
of the implications of the decision, should anyone be able
to choose to terminate a pregnancy. What then do you say
to an individual who has been the victim of incest, or to
an individual who, through an act of violence, has been
condemned to have the child of the man who forced himself
on her? How does one justify the emotional pain and suffering
inflicted on an individual in these circumstances if she
does not have the right to prevent the birth of a child
conceived as a result of violent sexual assault?
Jim Wells: This is
a debate on the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act. The
areas that the Member is talking about are already covered
by legislation that exists in Northern Ireland. The motion
is to prevent abortion on demand from coming to Northern
Ireland. There is already provision for dealing with these
very difficult cases to which the Member refers.
Jim Shannon: I thank
the Member for his intervention. The issue has to be raised
because it is an important one, for those people, who may
be a minority, who have had to deal with it. I am against
this Abortion Act’s being extended to Northern Ireland.
I stated that at the beginning, but this is an issue which
does cause some concern. If these circumstances are covered
by present legislation, that is to be welcomed.
We must also look at the
problems facing the ladies to whom this happened. The act
of conception was unnatural and unwarranted. It represents
a gross infringement of their rights. How do we justify
a situation where a woman who, at the end of her tether
and with nowhere to turn, takes her own life as a direct
result of being unable to terminate her pregnancy? If we
can ensure, under present legislation, that such a lady
could terminate her pregnancy, that is to be welcomed. I
would be glad to have that assurance.
I intended to ask the Member
if he would clarify that in his summing up, but he has done
that already. If even one life is lost because of the legislation,
or rather because of the lack of it, the system needs to
The onus and obligation
on us are to those whose circumstances are genuine and honest.
Therefore, being committed to the principle of maintaining
human life from the moral standpoint, we must support the
rights and prevent the suffering of the unborn child. I
do not believe that, as elected representatives, we have
any other choice in this unfortunate matter.
This has been a very thorough debate this afternoon.
Our amendment contains the words "and related issues".
Given the nature of the debate, we believe that "related
issues" needs to be discussed. Either Members either
understand the current situation or they do not. Some Members
appear to misunderstand it, and other Members suggest that
while they have great difficulties with the issue, in certain
circumstances they can understand why terminations take
place. That is why I feel that it is extremely important
for us to refer the matter to the Health, Social Services
and Public Safety Committee.
Mr Alban Maginness was concerned
that a call for an inquiry might be a call for abortion
on demand. I assure the Member that that is not the case.
When people in the Republic of Ireland made a decision to
have a commission on the issue, they were not calling for
that. They were calling for an inquiry that would call for
opinions from a whole range of medical experts, health professionals,
those in education and women themselves. This is an educational
issue as well as a health issue. It is an educational as
well as a health issue. Mr Wells talked about putting an
amendment down to his own motion, through another Member.
His motion is inadequate and needs amendment.
The Northern Ireland Act
1998 refers to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act
1990, covering issues such as human genetics and surrogacy
and xenotransplantation which have not been discussed in
this debate. The Committee on Health, Social Services and
Public Safety needs to consider these issues. If we leave
it to jurisprudence or the development of technology, we
shall be in serious trouble. We shall be surpassed and will
have to come back to make even more difficult decisions.
It is much better to understand the current situation and
to find out where Northern Ireland is getting into difficulties.
I say to Members such as Mr Alban Maginness that had he
not entered politics he might have gone to the Bench. He
could have been in the same position as one of the judges
who had to rule in the case of a minor who was raped. What
would he have done in that case? I refer, too, to the term
"diminished mental competence", which was another
case that was before the court. I ask Mr Jim Wells this
question: if he had not gone into urban planning, but had
gone into law instead, what would he have done in that case?
We need to review these issues because such cases are coming
to the courts. It is not to the courts that we should be
looking to in relation to health issues. Mental health,
non-consensual sex, rape and incest, which are not covered
under our current legislation, are being ruled on, case
by case, in the courts.
Ethics of care should be
our approach. Members said that we needed to look at the
rights of the child, and that is exactly what we are trying
to do. Members should understand that we are talking about
the principle of consent. Non-consent is a very serious
issue. Any Assembly in the world should understand the principle
of consent and this Assembly has had more opinions on that
issue than any other.
Some of the language used
today was judgemental. My colleague, may have left many
women psychologically damaged. I am not sure whether he
meant to do that with his reference to murderers, criminals
and enemies. There are many women who have had terminations
as a result of medical decisions. To refer to them in that
way does them an extreme disservice after what has already
happened to them and it may further traumatise them. We
need the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee
to tackle this issue. I can understand why people become
We need to hear from those
working in neonatology, paediatrics and obstetrics. Visits
should be made to both the Royal and the Mater Hospitals.
When the Royal presented its case on the maternity services
debate between the City and the Royal, it brought all its
figures and statistics. It was very clear that there are
terminations for foetal abnormality. Such decisions are
made every day. Members of the Committee should make those
visits to keep themselves informed of the current situation.
I am glad that other Members,
such as Mr Attwood, talked about the unhappiness and the
confusion. It is clear that the Committee could have considered
the issue of teenage pregnancies or the care for a mother
who chooses to keep her child. Services here are inadequate.
It is still the case that both the mother and the pregnancy
have been exported, because we have not dealt with this
in the proper manner.
Last night I came from a
meeting in London of women parliamentarians from around
the world. One was from Kuwait. When asked what it was like
for women in their parliament, she said that there were
none. We said that obviously that must be difficult. She
then said that women are not even allowed to vote in Kuwait.
It has been decided that they are not competent to make
a voting decision. That is not what we are saying here.
We should have referred this issue to the Committee. I hope
Members will vote for the amendment. We want to look at
the competency of the doctors and of those who are making
these decisions, whether it be in relation to foetal abnormality
or rape and incest, which, as I said earlier, is currently
against the law in Northern Ireland, and the whole range
of other issues that come before us.
I am grateful to Dr McGleenan
of the law department at Queen’s University for some information.
He notes that there is a great deal of misinformation about
the reasons for abortions, particularly in Great Britain.
Members may not be aware that abortion for rape and incest
is also illegal in Great Britain. That is why Members quoted
figures today that put those into other categories: that
category does not exist. The situation in Northern Ireland
is different. That is why we need this debate about the
period of time in which terminations can take place.
No one wants the 1967 Abortion
Act transported to Northern Ireland. That is not what I
heard in the debate. What I heard was that people want the
circumstances and the situation of Northern Ireland to be
considered. When we look at that, we need to look at the
whole range of what is currently happening, or not happening,
and the difficulties that we face as a result of a lack
of decent consideration being given to this discussion.
Dr Hendron raised the issue
— again, our Committee would probably have been the appropriate
place to discuss this — of the psychiatric evidence from
those who have had terminations and those who have chosen
not to do so. That was the issue in the Republic — the "X"
case, where the woman was attempting suicide — which eventually
led to an explosion of debate. We said we would not set
up this Assembly to make policy or legislation on the back
of tragedies. Make sure that we do not do that, and refer
this to the Committee.
Jim Wells: I thank
everyone who took part in the debate. Some Members must
have written notes containing phrases like "a heated
irrational debate full of venom", and then forgotten
to delete them when they came to speak. I must have been
in a different Chamber, because I did not detect that. I
heard a reasonably well-balanced, rational debate, which
covered the plethora of public opinion on this difficult
Mr Close’s contribution
was one of the best I have ever heard in the Chamber, and
I have been here longer than some. It was excellent, and
far outstripped his contribution to the previous debate
in 1984, which I read closely in case he attempted to repeat
it today. I was also pleased with the support I received
from Dr Birnie, who made a sensible and balanced contribution.
I was delighted with the
contribution from Mr A Maginness. I noticed that the clock
stopped on several occasions; I wish it had stopped at the
end of his contribution and allowed him to continue, because
he made some excellent points. I appreciate the wide-ranging
support that the motion received. The debate was conducted
in good humour and good spirit.
I think we need to remind
Members again about the nature of this motion. It is the
recognition of our opposition to the extension of the 1967
Act to Northern Ireland. Quite clearly the 1967 Act has
led to abortion on demand in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The only Member who dared to suggest otherwise was Mrs Bell.
How anyone can interpret 5·3 million abortions as being
anything other than abortion on demand defeats me. Eighty-five
per cent of the consultants dealing with abortions admit
that their hospital has an abortion-on-demand policy. How
can anyone claim that there is not abortion on demand in
Great Britain? I cannot understand that point of view.
The excesses of the Abortion
Act have resulted in huge numbers of people being in a position
to demand the termination of their pregnancy, after the
most cursory examination of the situation. We do not want
that excess imposed in Northern Ireland. Many Members —
Mr Morrow and Mr Close in particular — raised the issue
of when life starts. Those who spoke against the motion
did not question the fact that life begins at conception.
The more that we learn about medical science and the complexities
of life, the clearer it is becoming that life starts at
conception. Children born early — at, say, 30 weeks — would,
in the past, have died almost immediately. Now, as a result
of medical science increasingly younger lives are being
preserved after premature birth.
Can the Member make a distinction between the point
of conception and the point of the mothers life being at
risk? Clearly, the situation at the moment is that terminations
are performed for ectopic pregnancy, which is when the pregnancy
develops in the fallopian tube. Does the Member accept that
while there has been a point of conception, this situation
carries an enormous risk for the mother. Would he accept
that in this case termination is an acceptable alternative?
Jim Wells: Dr Paisley
put the case extremely well. This debate is not designed
to stop abortion when the mother’s life is genuinely at
risk. It is designed to prevent the excesses of the 1967
Act. As I said earlier, only 0·004% of all terminations
under the 1967 Act — 212 cases — were carried out for that
reason. That leaves 5,299,980 abortions carried out for
other reasons. It is no good putting up straw men. The argument
today is whether, as a society, we want the excesses of
the 1967 Act, which apply to the rest of the United Kingdom
imposed on us.
Will the Member accept that maternal mortality is minimal
today, but that most of the cases are not recorded under
maternal mortality? They are recorded under other categories,
which means that to make the argument about the minimal
number of cases where the mother is at risk, is not substantial.
Terminations are not listed under maternal mortality, they
are listed under headings such as blighted ovum, ectopic
pregnancy, and so forth. Currently that is the case in all
maternity hospitals in Northern Ireland.
Jim Wells: I would
prefer to give way to people other than Ms McWilliams from
now on. She has had more than adequate opportunity to comment.
The situation is that 98·65% of pregnancies terminated in
Great Britain are carried out for social purposes, because
of a perceived risk to the mental or physical well-being
of the mother. This loophole in the law has effectively
led to abortion on demand. The only person who disputed
this was Mrs Bell.
Eileen Bell: I wondered
how Mr Wells was able to claim that every termination was
an abortion on demand. There is no way he could say that.
Jim Wells: The point
I was making is that when 85% of gynaecologists say it is
abortion on demand, I accept their point of view. This is
not just my opinion. Effectively, that is what is happening
in the Province. I accept that the Northern Ireland legislation
is dated. There are those who have cast aspersions on it
because it is based on the Offences against the Person Act
1861. However, even though that legislation is cloudy, ambiguous
and dated, it has prevented abortion on demand in Northern
I am deeply suspicious of
those who demand clarification of the present situation
in Northern Ireland. Those demands are exactly the same
as those that were made in 1966 by David Steel when he was
pushing through his Act. His so-called clarification opened
the floodgates to abortion on demand throughout Great Britain.
Jane Morrice NIWC: It
is my perception that all the interventions this afternoon
from women Assembly Members have either been in favour of
our amendment or against the motion. I would like the Member
to comment on that.
Jim Wells: I can
assure Members that had the hon Member for Strangford, Mrs
Robinson, not been unwell, she would have been here to fully
support my motion. Similar to what Dr McCrea said earlier,
I resent the view that because I am only the father of three
children, rather than the mother, I have no right to have
a say on this issue. Like Mr Bradley, another Member for
South Down, I believe that I represent the overwhelming
majority view of the people of South Down on this issue.
If the letters and phone calls that I have received since
this matter became public are anything to go by, I can walk
down the main street of Kilkeel, Ballynahinch or Mayobridge
— well, perhaps not Mayobridge [Laughter] — or Rathfriland
with my head held high.
The case for the Women’s
Coalition amendment has been very ably put by both its Members.
I believe they are deeply split on this issue and do not
want to face up to it. They should, like my party, have
a free vote. We can vote according to our consciences, and
I hope that the same applies to other parties.
Ian Paisley Jnr DUP:
Does the Member agree that one of the faults in the
Women’s Coalition amendment is that, despite all its pleadings
today about its concern for this issue, its member on the
Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee has,
since the Committee’s inception, failed to bring this matter
before the Committee? She has failed to make it a matter
of public concern and failed to generate debate about it.
Fortunately the motion before the House today does so.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Member does not
know what has taken place on the Health, Social Services
and Public Safety Committee and, therefore, could not possibly
make an accurate statement. In fact, it is inaccurate.
Dr Joe Hendron SDLP:
As Chairman of the Health, Social Services and Public
Safety Committee I can say that the issue of pro-life or
abortion was not a subject for discussion by the Committee,
and it was not discussed as a subject. I cannot put my hand
on my heart and say that it was not raised at some time
under any other business, along with other matters, but
it certainly was not a subject for discussion.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to put on record
that we had the gynaecologists and obstetricians from the
Royal and City Hospitals in front of us, and the facts and
issues of what takes place in the Royal were placed before
us for discussion.
Mr Speaker: A completely
extraneous debate is beginning to develop during the winding-up
speech on a motion that has been under debate for some three
and a half hours. It is best to proceed to the completion
of the winding-up speech, which has only a few minutes left.
If anyone returns to this debate I will rule that he desist
and that the winding-up speech be completed.
Jim Wells: I thank
the hon Member for North Antrim for his very useful intervention.
I would have thought that had this been a really burning
issue for the Women’s Coalition, they would have initiated
a debate on the Floor of the Assembly by putting down a
motion themselves. I notice that — [Interruption]
Mr Speaker: Order.
I have already advised the Member, and he has proclaimed
to the Assembly his vast experience in the Chamber. He will
therefore know that what he is doing is verging on contempt
of the Chair, and he should desist. Please continue with
your winding-up, Mr Wells.
Jim Wells: I accept
your advice entirely, Mr Speaker. The other major plank
of the Women’s Coalition argument is that a four-hour debate
on this subject is totally inadequate. The whole issue regarding
the outworkings of the 1967 Abortion Act has to be one of
the most debated issues ever, both in Parliament and amongst
the public throughout the United Kingdom. There is no new
information available. What can the Health, Social Services
and Public Safety Committee possibly do in the six months
within which they promised to complete a report? It is quite
clear that all the material, all the statistics and all
the information that we need to come to a conclusion on
this subject have been available for many years and have
been well and truly debated.
I was very impressed this
evening by the number of Members who have clearly researched
this issue, looked at the statistics and provided reasoned,
rational argument. I cannot see what the Health, Social
Services and Public Safety Committee can do to change minds
on this issue. We are well and truly educated about the
matter and aware of what is going on. The Women’s Coalition
want to hive this issue off into oblivion in the Health,
Social Services and Public Safety Committee in the hope
that it will never return.
Why am I insisting that
the Assembly come to some decision on this vital issue tonight?
In Westminster there is a very active lobby group called
‘Voice for Choice’ which is seeking to impose the 1967 Abortion
Act on this community. I have a leaked document from ‘Voice
for Choice’, which is supported by 68 MPs. It contains these
"to allow abortion
on request in the first three months of pregnancy … to place
a duty on doctors to declare a conscientious objection to
abortion, and refer a woman immediately to another doctor
who does not share that view … to extend the amended Act
to Northern Ireland."
At present there is pressure
in Westminster to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern
Ireland and Dr Mowlam mentioned that. The last point Dr
Mowlam made before she left Northern Ireland was that she
wished she had found the time to implement the amended 1967
Abortion Act in Northern Ireland. We must send out this
evening a very clear, cross-community message — supported
by different parties with different viewpoints — that the
people of Northern Ireland totally resist any extension
of the 1967 Abortion Act to this community. The way to stop
that happening, to put the brakes on this process, is to
have a massive vote tonight in favour of my motion. I ask
Members to reject the amendment and vote to stop abortion
on demand in the Province.
I will finish with this.
In the time that this debate has taken, 72 more children
have been aborted in Great Britain under the terms of the
1967 Abortion Act. That must never happen in this part of
the United Kingdom.
Question put That the amendment
The Assembly divided: Ayes
15; Noes 43.
Gerry Adams, Eileen Bell,
David Ervine, Michelle Gildernew, Billy Hutchinson, Gerry
McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams,
Francie Molloy, Jane Morrice, Conor Murphy, Mary Nelis,
Dara O’Hagan, Sue Ramsey. [Tellers: Jane Morrice and Bill
Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood,
Roy Beggs, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, P J Bradley,
Joe Byrne, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Seamus Close,
Wilson Clyde, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Ivan Davis, Nigel
Dodds, Arthur Doherty, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, Oliver
Gibson, Denis Haughey, William Hay, Joe Hendron, Roger Hutchinson,
Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, Alban Maginness, Kieran McCarthy,
Alasdair McDonnell, Maurice Morrow, Danny O’Connor, Eamonn
ONeill, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Mark
Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, John
Tierney, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Cedric Wilson. [Tellers:
Jim Wells and John Tierney]
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed
That this Assembly is opposed
to the extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.
Adjourned at 5.45 pm.