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Lords Committee highly critical of Govt’s NI abortion consultation

23 April 2020

The Government’s recent public consultation on the new abortion laws for Northern Ireland failed to conform to best practise, according to a highly influential Lords committee.

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NI will soon have one of the most permissive abortion regime's in Europe

Not only was the consultation period of just six weeks too short, it also took place near to Christmas and during a General Election campaign.

“Public consultation began on 4 November 2019 and lasted for a period of six weeks. In our view this is too short for so sensitive a topic. Added to which, it took place during the General Election period and in the run up to Christmas, neither of which conforms with best practice. "
Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee Report, pg. 10, para 43 House of Lords

Moreover, the committee finds fault in the Government’s decision to lay such controversial regulations on 25 March. The regulations were put down very close to the Easter recess and it was also close to the 31 March deadline by which point, legally, the regulations had to be in place.

Laying them so close to the end of March deadline denied Parliament a crucial opportunity to scrutinise the regulations before they came into effect.

“While acknowledging that due to the current coronavirus crisis, Ministers have had much to occupy them, we find it regrettable that the Government chose to lay so controversial an instrument just as a recess started and, more importantly, so close to the implementation date set out in the 2019 Act, thereby denying Parliament an opportunity for scrutiny before the instrument came into effect.”
Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 11th Report of Session 2019-21, pg. 11, para 46 House of Lords

Over­whelm­ing pub­lic oppos­i­tion mentioned

The report also makes reference to the overwhelming level of public opposition to the new abortion laws. In response to the NIO's public consultation, 79% of responses were against the new abortion regime.

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79% of those who responded to the public consultation were opposed to the new abortion laws

CARE’s argu­ments cited in the report

CARE's submission is referenced on two separate occasions. Firstly, in relation to abortion on the grounds of disability, we made the case that the new law in Northern Ireland goes too far.

For example, Fiona Bruce MP, Sir Edward Leigh MP and Care NI state that regulation 7(b) is contrary to EU law because the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) extends to those in the womb."
Secondary Legislative Scrutiny Committee, 11th Report of Session 2019-21 pg. 8, para 28 House of Lords

Another concern referenced was the legitimacy of the Government’s regulations given that the Northern Ireland Assembly is now back and up running.

Care NI, for example, argues that Parliament could have repealed section 9 of the 2019 Act to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to make its own arrangements and that not to have done so undermines the principle of devolution."
Secondary Legislative Scrutiny Committee, 11th Report of Session 2019-21 pg. 10, para 40 House of Lords
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Restoration of Stormont is a game-changer

CARE’s response

It is very welcome that the select committee acknowledges the highly flawed nature of the Northern Ireland’s Office consultation on the new abortion laws.

As the committee says, the six-week time frame was far too short, and the NIO failed to adopt best practice. It was also a mistake to run the consultation so close to the General Election campaign.

That public engagement saw overwhelming opposition to the new NI abortion regulations and yet despite this, the Government is still pushing ahead.

What has changed since that consultation is that we now have a functioning NI Assembly and Executive and it is now time for the Assembly to act.

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CARE believes that there is a better way than abortion which only harms both mums and babies

Fur­ther information

The report can be read here:



In any pregnancy, both the woman and preborn baby have inherent value and dignity, by virtue of being made in the image of God. CARE is passionately pro-woman and pro-life.

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