After the parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 to legalize abortion, the Northern Ireland Assembly was deadlocked due to a dispute between the two major governing parties. As the assembly failed to do business by the Oct. 21, 2019 deadline, the abortion law took effect in March 2020.
The country’s Catholic bishops have called the act “an unjust law,” one “which was imposed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”
The bishops added they are “morally obliged, wherever possible, to do all we can to save the lives of unborn children, which could be lost through abortion, and to protect mothers from the pressures they might experience at the time of an unplanned pregnancy. We trust that you recognise this to be an obligation we all share as concerned citizens and public representatives.”
Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, issued a formal direction on July 22 requiring the Northern Ireland Executive and Department of Health to make abortion and post-abortion care available in the region by March 31, 2022. A High Court judge in Belfast recently ruled that Lewis had failed to comply with his duties as Secretary of State by not “expeditiously” making abortion available to women in Northern Ireland.
More in Europe
In England, a buffer zone was imposed by Ealing Council, in west London, around a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in April 2018. The zone prevents any pro-life gathering or speech, including prayer, within about 330 feet of the clinic.
The Ealing buffer zone, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal of England and Wales in August 2019, was cited by then-Secretary Sajid Javid as an example of a local government using civil legislation “to restrict harmful protest activities,” rather than a nationwide policy.
Shortly after the Ealing buffer zone was adopted, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said that “to remove from the environment of the abortion clinics alternative voices is to limit freedom of choice. Indeed, research shows that many women have been grateful for the last-minute support they have thereby received.”
“The imposition of ‘no-prayer zones’ outside clinics – I mean prayerful vigil, not militant or disruptive action – is unhelpful, unjust and unnecessary,” Bishop Egan said.
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and assistant podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and in the past has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer.