Before responding on the two specific areas, we desire to register our unhappiness at the attempt to eliminate, from this consultation process, any discussion of the wider issues regarding abortion. Changing the law on abortion in Northern Ireland to include cases, other than where the mother's life is in danger, is, in our opinion, invariably opening up the wider issues surrounding abortion.
One change in the law will invariably become the gateway to making other liberal changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland. The resistance against any consideration of these wider issues only succours those who want a more liberal approach to abortion in Northern Ireland.
The only grounds for abortion that we believe should be recognised is where a mother's life is in real danger. Even an unborn child must abide by the moral law of God which says: Thou shalt not kill, Exodus 20:13, and does not have the right to kill its own mother.
Therefore, as a general comment, we are against these proposed changes to the abortion laws in Northern Ireland. Society cannot claim to be interested in, or concerned with, protecting the vulnerable and disabled when its legislators introduce laws to kill them in the womb!
As Bible believing Christians we believe the command of God is to protect life. We are required to engage in all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life and the life of our neighbour. This is part of loving our neighbour as ourselves, Leviticus 19:18 & Matthew 22:39. A society that kills the unborn cannot claim to love its neighbour!
The desire to abort unborn children, for these proposed reasons, seems to be based upon a mistaken belief that there is no, or at least less, trauma associated with abortion than continuing with the pregnancy and awaiting its natural outcome. This is evidently not the case. Terminating the life of an unborn child in the womb has serious physical and emotional side effects. It is well documented that abortion increases the risk of suicide and depression. Therefore abortion should only be permitted in very rare circumstances, as presently allowable.
To address the specific areas where change is suggested:
Lethal foetal abnormality - The consultation material, provided by the Department of Justice, lacks accuracy as some of the examples listed of conditions 'incompatible with life' are mistaken. There are people alive today in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, with some of these medical conditions. It is somewhat offensive to suggest that they could have been slain in the womb before they were even born.
These discrepancies highlight the difficulties in defining what conditions fall into these categories of 'Lethal foetal abnormality' and 'incompatibility with life'. The Department of Justice's inability to get it right doesn't bode well for wider society.
Medical opinion is not absolute. Doctors and Consultants have been known to get the diagnosis wrong. They are not infallible. Only the all wise God is! There are times when mistakes are made. Numerous personal testimony could be given, by parents, who were initially given a diagnosis, which subsequently was proved to be incorrect.
One of the arguments employed against capital punishment is the fear of sentencing an innocent person to death. Does the same argument not prevail with this proposed change to abortion law? This proposed change has the potential unintended consequence of putting healthy children to death because of misdiagnosis.
The proposed procedure requiring two registered medical practitioners to be of "the opinion, formed in good faith, that a foetal condition has been assessed and is incompatible with life" offers no comfort to those concerned about this change in the law. Similar procedures already exist in mainland UK and have been discovered to be open to the most flagrant and blatant abuse. It was recently discovered that doctors were pre-signing abortion consent forms.
The right to a termination in these proposed circumstances will become a duty to terminate a pregnancy in these circumstances. Pressure is already brought upon expectant mothers, to terminate a pregnancy, where disability is diagnosed by travelling over to mainland UK for an abortion. If the law is changed in Northern Ireland the situation could be foreseen where the present financial constraints, etc upon the NHS would be used to pressurise parents into accepting an abortion.
To push for a change in the law using emotional examples, as the Department of Justice has done, makes for bad law. This is an one-sided and biased approach, as there are others, who have suffered a similar misfortune, who would take the opposite view and support a disabled child's right to life, however short that life might be. For the Department of Justice to present only one side of the argument is hardly fair and equitable treatment, of such an emotive issue.
We also believe that this proposal will set a dangerous precedent. It will establish the principle that a disabled child no longer has an absolute right to life. This, in our view, will become the thin end of the wedge and once passed into law will be inevitably widened to include other disabilities.
Sexual Crime - We are also against any change in the law on this point. No one denies the seriousness of sexual crime. Victims of sexual crimes need our support and help. Society needs more severe sentences for the perpetrators of these wicked crimes than those presently handed down to rapists, etc. There is a great deal of trauma associated with sexual crimes, as there is with having an abortion. As one victim of sexual crime has said: "I got over the rape but not the abortion".
However, the seriousness of sexual crime is not a sufficient reason to warrant the killing of a child conceived in such circumstances. A simple reason underpins our belief. The child conceived in these circumstances is as much an innocent victim as the victim of the sexual crime itself. Since when was it just and humane to slay a child for the sins of its father? This is what happens when abortion is permitted for sexual crime.
Surely the appropriate thing to do is to punish the father for his crime, not the child. To think that an otherwise healthy child could be killed for no other reason than how it was conceived defies compassion, justice and logic.
We believe that the child, whatever the circumstances of its conception, has the right to life. Where is the principle that: "the welfare of the child is paramount" in this proposed change? It has evidently been abandoned and never considered. One of the seven criteria included in the checklist within the Children‘s Act 1989 when applying this principle is the consideration that must be given to: "Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering". It is surely outright hypocrisy to require this principle to be applied to the child once it is outside its mother's womb, having refused to apply the same principle when the child was still within its mother's womb. How sad that the most dangerous place for a child in today's liberal society is within its mother's womb!
Conscientious objection - If these proposals are forced through then there must be enshrined in law a robust right of conscientious objection. This is presently part of the abortion law in England. The law should be as wide as necessary and should never seek to compel anyone within the medical profession to act contrary to their consciousness beliefs.
In closing we call upon legislators to respect the right to life of the unborn child, no matter how short their life might be and no matter how they were conceived. The test of fairness within any society is surely how it deals with the most vulnerable in its midst. There are no more vulnerable individuals within society than those within the womb, particularly the disabled!