The political arrogance and abuse of devolved powers by the Conservative government on this matter will stay with me for a very long time. It is still fresh in my mind and heart that when Northern Ireland was beset by its own form of political stalemate, with the abdication of legislative process by the previous executive partners, that Boris Johnson led by and ultimately primed by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the previous Secretary of State (SoS) decided that constructing and imposing the most draconian abortion regime imaginable was a priority. Regardless of anyone’s views on abortion it is a mystery to me given the problems that Northern Ireland has, including the highest rates of mental ill health and instances of suicide that the Conservative government would “prioritise” and choose to force through legislation and a framework which was directly at odds with the overwhelming consultation responses in opposition to the suggested changes.
The failure of MLAs on the 21st of October 2019 to put forward any constructive debate on abortion was for me, and some others, a frustrating and dark day. Amid the bluster, claim and counter claim, many like myself failed to even get a chance to speak up. It was with some relief, although jaded by the reality of the difficulties we face, to be able to give voice against the cruel scope of what has been designed, at the beginning of April 2020 in the Assembly chamber (LINK).
I find nothing in the regulations and framework that is acceptable. Indeed, much of what has been designed leaves me cold and angry. Even the harsh 1967 abortion Act has been superseded and astoundingly and abhorrently the life and value of the disabled has been cruelly measured as something that can be weighed as worthless and discarded, abortion up to the full term of the pregnancy if it is deemed the child, if born, ‘would suffer from such mental or physical impairment as to be seriously disabled.’
I sit on various All Party Groups (APGs) at Stormont including Disability and Learning Disability with the purpose of addressing the problems and inequalities faced by people with these difficulties, yet it is almost impossible to imagine that a world that apparently prides itself in ending discrimination actually heralds legislation that is designed and under pinned by direct discrimination. Therefore, it was with great joy I watched and read about the campaign by Heidi Crowther, disability rights campaigner. I agree with her that we must do all we can to prevent and mitigate the worst aspects of these regulations.
I have been part of a cross party delegation that has had preliminary discussions about establishing a working group and methods that will seek ways to offer up a strong voice and mechanisms to counter and hopefully change the legal framework and regulations. It has been encouraging to sit with Assembly members of other parties and hear similar views on this topic and exchange ideas on what could be done collectively.
If I can offer you some crumb of comfort it would be that even with the country and nationwide lockdown due to the covid pandemic, challenging these measures has still been very much a topic of constructive conversation for me and other concerned MLAs. Please be assured that your voice has been heard, that I will speak and act on your behalf and I will work collectively with other political representatives to bring challenge and change to this harsh unwelcome and imposed legislative change.