to prevail against the abortion lobby in Britain and in Europe, says Liam Gibson pro-life campaigners in Ireland are celebrating this week after a major setback to the abortion lobby's attempts to undermine Northern Ireland's legal protection of unborn children. Prolife activists however, are already warning that what was won in the High Court in Belfast was merely a breathing space in the fight against the introduction of liberal abortion to Ireland.
The court ruling by Mr Justice Kerr on 7 July, that Northern Ireland's abortion law is clear, comes almost three years after the Family Planning Association (FPA) was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the practice and provision of abortion in the Province.
For more than 10 years, the FPA had called for the introduction of new abortion legislation claiming the current law, a combination of statutes and case law, was unclear. While its judicial review claimed only to seek guidelines from the Minister of Health on when abortion was legal in Northern Ireland, there can be little doubt that the FPA's real aim was to attack the present restrictions on abortion.
The attempt to change the law through the courts demonstrates the pro-abortion lobby's failure to win support from either the people of Northern Ireland or their politicians.
Of the Province's numerous political parties, only within Sinn Fein is there any significant support for liberal abortion. It was ironic therefore that it was Sinn Fein's Health Minister, Bairbre de Brun, who was in charge of defending Northern Ireland's abortion legislation against the claims of the FPA.
It was for this reason the Roman Catholic bishops, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and the other pro-life groups successfully intervened in the case to present a genuine defence of the right to life of the unborn.
In a detailed examination of the evidence, Mr Justice Kerr dismissed the FPA's case, rejecting each of its arguments, often stating its claims to be "unsupported and unsustained". Referring twice to SPUC's evidence positively, he found that the legal principles "are clear and are easily absorbed" and set out unequivocally abortion law in the Province: "Operations in Northern Ireland for the termination of pregnancies are unlawful unless performed in good faith for the purpose for the purpose of preserving the life of the mother." (Paragraph 37) The judgement then expands upon this principle and how doctors should interpret the law in clinical circumstances.
Dismissing the need for guidelines, the judge's legal opinion was that: "Apart from stating the law clearly, no further guidance can or requires to be given".
Such a complete rejection of the pro-abortion lobby's claims over the past 10 years can only be seen as a major defeat for those campaigning for abortion on demand. The decision to challenge the clarity of the law in the High Court has not only failed to achieve what they hoped but has removed their most damaging argument against the current legal situation. It now appears it was not the law which was confused but the pro-abortion lobby.
In setting out the law clearly. Mr Justice Kerr has also confirmed that eugenic abortions (the destruction of unborn children suspected of
'Northern Ireland is the safest place in the UK to raise children, and it is also far ahead of the rest of the UK in its protection of the unborn ... all sections of the population can come together on the fundamental issue of the value of unborn life'
being disabled) are not permitted in Northern Ireland.
Despite this, after the judgement was handed down, the pro-abortion lobby, including members of the Royal College of Midwives, claimed that the question of what they termed "foetal abnormality" had not been dealt with.
The Director of the FPA (NI) Audrey Simpson told the press she would seek to have this issue resolved by Health Department.
Although there is no legal obligation on the Health Department to issue guidelines on abortion, it may still decide to do so and it is now the hope of the FPA that it may still persuade the Health Minister to do just that.
After the collapse of the powersharing executive last year, Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun was replaced by a direct rule minister. This is currently Angela Smith, who is on record as a supporter of the Abortion Act.
The case for a new abortion law has been damaged but the danger to the unborn remains. The pro-abortionists have suffered a setback but they have not gone away.
The FPA is now attempting to justify the practice of aborting disabled children and is seeking to have the law widened through guidelines.
It is sad that, so soon after the people of Ireland welcomed disabled children from around the world for the Special Olympics, the right to life of disabled children in the Province should come under threat.
It is therefore essential for everyone who opposes abortion to help to build upon the success of the prolife cause in the Belfast High Court.
In the recent past, the people of Northern Ireland have struggled to maintain respect for the sanctity of life but, despite their political difficulties, their political representatives have consistently opposed the introduction of liberal abortion to the Province.
In the preface to SPUC (NI)'s 2002 publication, A Way of Life, Nigel Dodds of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and Danny O'Connor of the nationalist SDLP stated: "Northern Ireland is the safest place in the UK to raise children, and it is also far ahead of the rest of the UK in its protection of the unborn all sections of Northern Ireland's population can come together on the fundamental issue of the value of unborn life."
It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that the Province cannot stand alone against the proabortion lobby. The fate of unborn children in the Irish Republic will be shared by those in the North, And Ireland as a whole needs the help and support of the much more experienced and resourceful pro-life lobby in Britain if it is to defend itself against the considerable influence of the pro-abortionists in Europe.
It is also clear now that the sanetity of human life must be defended where it is most vulnerable, at its earliest stages when it is threatened by the morning-after pill or through NF, later by the growing influence of the euthanasia lobby, or, as in Northern Ireland, when children with a disability are targeted for abortion.
Liam Gibson is Northern Ireland development officer for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC)