Healthcare workers who conscientiously object to carrying out abortion procedures could be ‘exposed’ if the current law on abortion in NI is changed, a former midwife has warned.
Debbie Duncan, who lectures at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University in Belfast fears the changes will go too far and leave NI with little or no regulation.
In July, MPs and Peers fast-tracked radical changes to abortion law in NI by passing amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act.
Healthcare workers could be left exposed
If the Northern Ireland Assembly is not restored in just 35 days’ time, abortion will become available in NI potentially up to 28 weeks or the point of viability.
This means NI’s life-affirming law, thanks to which 100,000 lives have been saved, will fundamentally change – leaving NI with a more permissive abortion regime than the rest of the UK.
If the Assembly is not restored by the 21 October deadline, the changes will come into force the very next day on October 22.
But regulations governing this extreme new abortion regime need only be in place by the end of March 2020, leaving NI with a 5-month ‘limbo period’ where there will be no regulation at all.
Many reasons to be alarmed
Ms Duncan, who worked for the NHS for 30 years said: “Most people would agree the 1861 Act needed to change, but the process should have taken longer and it should have gone out for consultation. These amendments may leave me and my health care colleagues exposed in Northern Ireland where there is no clause on conscientious objection.”
Under the 1967 Abortion Act, which applies in England, Wales and Scotland, midwives can conscientiously object if they so desire.
It is not the only area of concern. If the law on abortion in NI changes, it will be legal to abort on the basis of the baby’s gender, or in cases of disability. It constitutes a radical cultural change on abortion.
Commenting, CARE’s communications manager, James Mildred said: “These valid concerns draw attention to yet another difficulty arising from Westminster’s decision to impose extreme abortion law changes on Northern Ireland.
“Even if you favour abortion being more widely available, surely all can agree that individual freedom and the right to conscientiously object should be respected?
“Northern Ireland faces entering into a dangerous legal vacuum when it comes to abortion law if the Assembly is not restored by 21 October.
“It is not right that such a profound social change should be imposed without any consultation with the people of NI.
“For this reason and so many others, the Assembly needs to be restored before it is too late.”
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