CNA Staff, Nov 3, 2020 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Seven months after Northern Ireland’s expansive legal abortion law took effect, pro-life advocates have lamented the lives lost and called for change.

“Tragically, the extreme abortion regime being forced upon the people of Northern Ireland has already resulted in the abortion of at least 719 unborn babies,” Catherine Robinson, a spokesperson for Right to Life UK, said Nov. 3. “Every one of these abortions represents a failure to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies.”

The latest figures show 719 abortions between March 31 and Oct. 14. Health Minister Robin Swann reported the numbers in response to a question from Member of the Legislative Assembly Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, according to Right to Life UK.

Allister noted that more than 560 people have died of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland in the same period.

“We’re all rightly concerned about the suffering and death caused by the pandemic in NI and across our nation, with every death a tragic loss for families,” McAllister said, according to the Belfast newspaper News Letter. “There is, however, another deadly threat to the lives of the youngest, most innocent and venerable which shamefully is not receiving anything like the same attention.”

“What a contrast – medical professionals strive desperately to save lives, while others abort lives!” said Allister.

Northern Ireland rejected the Abortion Act 1967, which legalized abortion in England, Wales, and Scotland. Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

Robinson said the previous law in Northern Ireland saved lives.

“Northern Ireland is a country where 100,000 people are alive today because they chose protecting unborn babies over accepting the same abortion law that was introduced into Britain in 1967,” she said.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but abortion law was considered a devolved issue to be under the control of the Northern Ireland Assembly, known as Stormont. However, due to the collapse of a power sharing agreement in the government, the U.K. Parliament last October was able to pass a broad legal abortion regime. Parliament also voted to require same-sex marriage to be recognized in law.

Before March 31, abortion was legally permitted only if the mother’s life was at risk or if there was risk of long term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health. Now, Northern Ireland abortion law now allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother’s physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal fetal abnormality.

Right to Life UK says the law in Northern Ireland is even more permissive than in other parts the U.K. and allows abortion up to birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, club foot, and Down syndrome.

“The people of Northern Ireland did not want these extreme abortion regulations imposed on them and still do not want them,” said Robinson. “Northern Ireland politicians must urgently repeal this extreme abortion legislation imposed upon them and begin conversations on how they can better support women and unborn babies.”

Northern Irish women had been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017. They were allowed to travel to the rest of the U.K. to procure abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Right to Life UK said the figures from six and a half months of legal abortion suggest the Northern Ireland legislation is resulting in more abortions than previously sought. Throughout all of 2019, 1,014 Northern Ireland women are known to have traveled to England or Wales for an abortion, and fewer than 10 traveled to Scotland for an abortion, according to the U.K. Department of Social Care and Scotland’s Information Services.

The pro-life group Precious Life NI held a “life chain” event outside Stormont Oct. 24 to mark the anniversary and to protest the pro-abortion rights aspects of Parliament’s act, known as Section 9. Seventeen “life chain” events took place across Northern Ireland, following social distancing regulations to limit spread of the coronavirus.

“As long as a single precious unborn baby is in danger, then our work is not yet finished,” said Bernadette Smyth, director of Precious Life NI. “Our life chain events today sent out a clear message to our Assembly: repeal Section 9 and restore personhood for Northern Ireland’s unborn children.”

The group’s Stormont display used hundreds of pairs of baby shoes with a boy’s or girl’s name pinned to them, and arranged to spell the letters “664” the previous count of legal abortions in Northern Ireland.

A heartbeat monitor was held to the stomach of a pregnant mother and the baby’s heartbeat was amplified through the public address system. A mother whose son was born with the help of the Stanton Healthcare pregnancy resource center in Belfast spoke at the event and thanked people for their support.

Under Northern Ireland law, abortions may be performed at general practitioners premises, and Health and Social Care clinics and hospitals. Medical abortions are permitted up to 10 weeks, and the first drug used in the two-drug process, mifepristone, must be taken at a clinic.

Right to Life UK warned that abortion backers seek to expand legal access to “do-it-yourself” home abortions using this two-drug regimen, despite what it says are”serious safety concerns.” The U.K. government has allowed these abortions in England, following consultation with a doctor, as have the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales.

“All three governments made the very substantial change without any public consultation, parliamentary scrutiny or debate,” the pro-life group objected.

NGOs like the British Pregnancy Advisory Services and abortion providers like Marie Stopes International have been pressuring Stormont to allow the abortion drugs to be administered at home.

The Republic of Ireland, where 66% of voters chose to  legalize abortion in a 2018 referendum to remove strong protections for unborn babies from the national constitution, saw a total of 6,666 abortions in 2019.

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