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Ethics – Abortion rights for under-16s20

January 2018

Children under the age of 16 from Northern Ireland are to be offered abortions, free of charge, in England. Controversial new plans from Westminster would see the children being given their travel and accommodation free, with no legal requirement for any parental consent for the procedure.

The decision, by Rt Hon. Justine Greening MP, Minister for Equalities and Women, has been condemned by groups such as Right to Life, which branded it ‘disgraceful’. In a statement, the advocacy group said: ‘This policy, the continuation and profound worsening of an extraordinary intervention by the UK government into the devolved affairs of Northern Ireland, will actively encourage abortions by Northern Irish women, leading to the further deaths of hundreds of unborn children every year’.

The action was taken without any parliamentary debate or vote, prompting Peter D. Williams, executive director of Right to Life, to call it ‘a constitutional disgrace’. He said: ‘It constitutes the UK government attempting to void the intended effects of Northern Irish right-to-life protections, an area of law that is a devolved competency.

‘It is a political disgrace, because not only is the government doing all this without parliamentary authorisation at any devolved or national level, let alone public engagement, it is doing it in response to lobbying by a small number of pro-abortion parliamentarians and their allies in the abortion industry’. Most of all, he added, it was a moral disgrace, enabling the killing of unborn children in a part of the UK where their right to life had been properly safeguarded.

Nola Leach, chief executive of charity CARE, commented: ‘It is beyond reason the government would allow girls under the age of 16 to access an abortion here without any parental involvement, and bearing in mind the legal age of consent is 16.

‘The decision undermines the role of parents and guardians in family life. This throws open huge questions on safeguarding and child sexual exploitation. What protections have been put in place to make sure that the child has not been coerced into having an abortion?’