MPs in Westminster have given the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland sweeping new powers to expand abortion provision across the province.
The move has been sharply criticised as a ‘destructive’ and ‘serious’ blow to the devolved government at Stormont.
A legal challenge against the decision has been launched, with Northern Ireland’s former Attorney General representing pro-lifers.
The judicial review is being funded by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).
SPUC’s Liam Gibson said, ‘This is a disgraceful power grab by the Westminster government.
‘If allowed to stand it will not only condemn to death an untold number of unborn babies but fatally undermine the devolution settlement as well.’
During the debate in the House of Commons some MPs were outspoken against the decision, including Miriam Cates MP.
She argued that, because abortion is a devolved issue, the only ‘legal or moral basis for the 2019 intervention by the UK government was that there was no sitting Northern Ireland Assembly at that time’.
However, that is no longer the case, and she said, ‘the Assembly has shown itself to be perfectly competent in developing its own legislation.
‘There is no longer any justification for the UK government to enforce the regulations. Pressing ahead is a breach of the Belfast agreement and weakens the trust and respect upon which devolution is founded.’
Following the news, the Irish Presbyterian Church issued a statement criticising Westminster’s decision, branding it ‘destructive’ and a ‘serious’ blow to the workings of devolved government in the province.
Christian charity and advocacy organisation CARE has also spoken out against the rules, warning that the regulations were an ‘assault on devolution’.
Nola Leach, chief executive of CARE, commented, ‘Whatever we think about abortion itself, there is simply no democratic case for this move by the UK government.
‘It is a direct assault on the devolution settlement, and it risks compounding existing constitutional tensions.
‘Ministers would never meddle in the affairs of the Scottish or Welsh Parliaments in this way. There would be outrage and justifiably so. So why do they feel entitled to, when it comes to NI?’