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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another concern referenced was the legitimacy of the Government’s regulations given that the Northern Ireland Assembly is now back and up running.
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.
The report can be read here: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/255/secondary-legislation-scrutiny-committee/publications/reports/