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World News

'This is an awful decision', says Presbyterian Church in Ireland as Westminster directs Stormont to fully roll out abortion services

by Kelly Valencia

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has described the decision of Westminster to allow the Executive in Northern Ireland to offer full abortion services in the country "awful and terrible".

"We have been consistently pro-life in our voice within the public square. We feel it's a terrible decision, not just in the immediate future, but also in the ramifications that it has going forward in 10, 15,20 years. How's it going to affect the culture? What does it mean for us as a community and the province here in Northern Ireland?" Rev Daniel Kane, PCI's Convener of the Council for Public Affairs told Premier. 

Westminster made changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws in 2019 during a period of absence of devolution. 

While individual health trusts are currently offering early medical abortions on an ad hoc basis, the Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the full suite of abortion services due to a stalemate caused by disagreements within the five-party executive. 

The reduced offering left many women with no option but to travel to England to get an abortion during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, Secretary Brandon Lewis has used new powers to direct ministers in Belfast to roll out abortion services across the region before the end of March 2022. 

But for Rev Kane, financial resources could be put to better use, such as providing life-saving services. 

"One member of my congregation has been waiting for a cancer surgery since October of last year. How can we find money to commission services which we feel end life when we are desperately in need of money to commission extra and additional services to save lives? The two things just don't match up."

According to Mr Lewis, the stalemate left him with no choice but to issue a direction. 

"I have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the women and girls in Northern Ireland are afforded their rights and can access the healthcare as set out in the 2020 Regulations."

However, Rev Kane disagrees with Lewis' statement and claims that the Secretary of State has gone against the wishes of 80 per cent of people who responded to a public consultation on this matter in 2019. 

"Over 21,000 people, individuals and organisations responded to that which as far as I know, is a big response. But 80 per cent of them said they wanted no change. The Secretary of State is riding roughshod over the express wishes of the consultation, results and process."

Speaking about the church's response to this decision, Rev Kane said the Presbyterian denomination would continue to pray and lobby authorities. 

"We have been and will continue to encourage our people to pray. To pray for those in authority over us. We all want to be compassionate, and we all live by the values of justice and equality. 

"We also have been in communication with our locally elected political representatives, namely our MLAs, and lobbying them for a wonderful, better world and praying for them and trying to help them to understand our position."

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