House of Lords backs NI abortion regulations

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Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were changed by MPs last year at a time when the assembly had collapsed.

The House of Lords has overwhelmingly backed abortion regulations for Northern Ireland despite opposition by the Stormont Assembly.

Peers supported the provisions by 355 votes to 77.

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

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were changed by MPs last year at a time when the assembly had collapsed.

However, earlier this month the now-sitting assembly registered its opposition to the “imposition” of 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 were forced to travel to England to access services or look to alternatives outside the healthcare system, potentially putting themselves at risk, he said.

Lord Younger added: “I recognise that this is an emotive issue and views on all sides of the debate are strongly held.

“These are extremely difficult and often distressing decisions for women and girls.

“However, the essence of these regulations is to provide women and girls with the opportunity to be able to make individual informed decisions based on their own health and wider circumstances.”

But opposing the regulations, Baroness O’Loan said: “We now have a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. Abortion is a devolved matter. The assembly voted to reject these regulations on June 2.

“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 asked how “denying a human being diagnosed before birth with a non-fatal disability like mine the equal right to be born is somehow not less favourable treatment”.

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader Lord Empey said: “Legislation should never have been allowed onto the statute book in the first place.”

Democratic Unionist Party peer Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown said: “It was introduced wrongly in the first place and now to add insult to injury we have it in conflict with the democratic decision of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

But Labour former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain said: “I am sorry but it’s no good some local assembly members complaining.

“While they squabbled, refusing to do their jobs and instead maintaining Stormont in ignominious suspension for three years, the world moved on without them.”

For the Liberal Democrats, Lord Bruce of Bennachie backed the regulations, saying the regulations were necessary to deliver a change in the law which the UK Parliament had voted for and the Northern Ireland Assembly had “abdicated responsibility” for in the three years it did not meet.

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