Firstly let me be absolutely clear, I am in no way a supporter of a loosening of abortion legislation in Northern Ireland to the extent that we have “abortion-on-demand”, no questions asked.
What was recently passed through Westminster was simply political grandstanding and “virtue-signalling” to compel Northern Ireland to have abortion legislation weaker than any other part of the UK. It is also worth noting that every politician from Northern Ireland had grave reservations about this in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, but to no avail.
I fully acknowledge that abortion is a highly emotive topic and sadly a lot of the time the language used by both sides can cause distress, sometimes deliberately so. Sometimes terms such as “Pro-Choice” or “Pro-Life” charge the debate in a way that is not helpful, which is why, although I am not a supporter of abortion, I try to acknowledge that proponents of abortion reform likely have heartfelt reasons for feeling the way they do. Whether you agree with this move or not does not alter the fact that this is potentially a nail in the coffin for local devolution – if Westminster will so flagrantly legislate on issues which are clearly defined as devolved matters in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, then it shows a clear intention to move towards Direct Rule, making a mockery of any talks process to re-establishing an Executive. Furthermore, I believe that this will actually disincentivise any political party which wants lax abortion law in Northern Ireland from forming an Executive between now and the end of October.
The UUP has always been a party of conscience, not forcing members to any particular view on what are clearly moral issues, and I know amongst our MLAs there is a spectrum of opinion on abortion reform. My own view has always been that life is sacred and that, in the first instance, our priorities should be about protecting and saving life, not terminating it. You can read about my views in further detail from a post to my website back in 2017, and my views have not changed since then: http://www.robbiebutlermla.com/2017/02/17/abortion/
Regarding getting an Executive formed, I am ready to sit in the chamber today if possible. I know that I can speak for the majority of MLAs who are, like myself, beyond frustrated with not being able to do the job which we were elected to do. The harsh reality is that those who hold the balance of power are refusing to form an Executive and as long as they continue to do so, there is nothing which members from any of the other parties can do.
There are those MLAs, myself included, who are active supporters of campaigns such as those led by “Both Lives Matter” and we will not be silent about these changes to our abortion legislation being imposed upon us.