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Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland says there must be proper local scrutiny of abortion law

by Cara Bentley

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill currently going through parliament aims to get the Executive functioning again and requires the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, to report on progress. 

However, amendments have been added to the bill by MPs in Westminster that require Northern Ireland to provide access to legal abortion services and to legalise same-sex marriage, if the assembly is not back up and running by October 21st. 

Both are currently illegal, with abortion being allowed when the mother's life is at serious risk. The changes would mean abortion would be allowed up to 28 weeks; it is currently 24 weeks in the rest of the UK. 

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has expressed its "deep disappointment and dismay" at these amendments and has called for "meaningful and detailed" consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny in Northern Ireland before any regulations are introduced. 

In addition, the group 'Don't Screen Us out', who campaign for the lives of babies with Down's syndrome have also written an open letter to the current Prime Minister, asking Theresa May not to allow the changes, citing that currently 90% of pregnancies with a Down's syndrome diagnosis in England and Wales are aborted and that they do not want to see disability-selective abortion introduced in Northern Ireland. 

Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said, "Our Church's position has always been that decisions on abortion and same-sex marriage should remain the responsibility of our locally elected MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly)."

"This legislation blatantly disregards our deeply held Christian values which for centuries have provided a positive and cohesive framework for the protection of individuals and the benefit of society at large. We will continue to speak out in particular for the rights of unborn children who are among the most vulnerable in our society, and to encourage support and compassion for those expectant mothers who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

"The breadth and scope of the provisions of this Bill raise many questions with regard to its implementation, including what protections, if any, might be included. We therefore call on the Government to publish its legislative proposals with the utmost urgency to allow adequate time for local consultation and amendment within the restrictive timescales, before regulations are laid in the Houses of Parliament.

"The events of the past weeks only serve to emphasise the importance of restoring functioning devolved government. At the same time, only the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform society and bring hope and justice for all. Accordingly I encourage our members and all Christians to pray to that end."

Lynn Murray, spokeswoman for Don't Screen Us Out said: "If this deeply discriminatory change in law comes into effect on 21st October, it would allow for babies with Down's syndrome to be chosen for abortion, up to 28 weeks, simply because they are found to have a disability.

"Many hundreds of people with Down's syndrome and their parents are incredibly worried about what this law change would mean for their already very small community. It is likely that the numbers for disability-selective abortion in Northern Ireland would increase and this would have a devastating impact on the community of people with Down's syndrome in Northern Ireland."

Lord Shinkwin, an advocate for disability equality, also denounced the Government's plan to introduce disability-selective abortion to Northern Ireland:

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