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Christian charity urges MPs to reject 'discriminatory' NI abortion rules backed by House of Lords

by Heather Preston

A Christian charity is calling for MP's to reject new abortion regulations for Northern Ireland that "discriminate against people with disabilities" after Members of the House of Lords at Westminster voted to approve them. 

On Monday Westminster Peers voted in favour of provisions put forward by the UK Government that would permit abortions up to birth in cases of non-fatal disabilities - a provision rejected by the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this month.

The provisions passed with 355 votes for and 77 against.

An earlier bid led by independent crossbencher Baroness O'Loan for the regulations to be rejected was heavily defeated by 388 votes to 112.

MPs at Westminster are expected to vote on the regulations on Wednesday 17th June. 

Christian charity CARE argues that by voting in favour of the new regulations Westminster is undercutting Northern Ireland's devolved government and the wishes of Northern Irish people.

CARE's Chief Executive, Nola Leach, said: 

"Members of the House of Lords have voted for regulations that directly discriminate against people with disabilities. 

"The people of Northern Ireland do not want these regulations, according to recent polling. 

"We have consistently argued that with the Northern Ireland Assembly now restored, the matter of abortion law in Northern Ireland should be handed back to the Assembly. 

"Peers have voted against devolution tonight and we would urge MPs to carefully recognise the strength of feeling in Northern Ireland and reject the regulations later this week.

"Both lives matter in every pregnancy. MPs need to consider that, by voting for these regulations, the message they are sending to the people of Northern Ireland is that unborn babies have no value, particularly unborn babies who have disabilities."

Northern Ireland's abortion laws were changed by MPs last year at a time when Stormont was collapsed due to long-running disagreements between its leading parties - Sinn Fein and the DUP.

However, earlier this month the now-sitting Assembly registered its opposition to the "imposition" of the regulations by Westminster, which permit abortions up to birth in cases of severe non-fatal disability.

Outlining the measures, Tory frontbencher Viscount Younger of Leckie said the regulations provide "the new legal framework for access to abortion services in Northern Ireland and ensure ongoing legal certainty."

Prior to the changes, women and girls would need to travel to England to access services or look to unsafe alternatives outside of the healthcare system, potentially putting themselves at risk, he said.

Opposing the regulations, Lady O'Loan argued that abortion was a "devolved matter" for the Northern Ireland Assembly, which voted to reject the regulations on 2nd June.

"I ask you to listen to the people of Northern Ireland. Listen to our Assembly. Do not approve these regulations."
She was supported by disabled Tory peer Lord Shinkwin, who argued the move "undeniably promotes and perpetuates disability discrimination".

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, has also opposed the measures saying that approving the regulations contradicts the value and respect of a person with a disability.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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