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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Niall Carson/PA Images
grave concerns

Church leaders call for restoration of Stormont to stop abortion law being passed in North

Abortion will be decriminalised in the North if the collapsed assembly is not restored by 21 October.

IRELAND’S CHURCH LEADERS have called for the North’s political parties to restore the Stormont executive to prevent the introduction of abortion legislation next month.

In a joint statement, the leaders of four churches and the Irish Council of Churches expressed “grave concerns” at the prospect of abortion being decriminalised in the North by Westminster.

It follows the passing of a vote in the House of Commons in July, when it was ruled that abortion may be decriminalised in the North if the collapsed executive does not resume before 21 October.

While the law on abortion was relaxed across the UK in 1967, it remains criminally prohibited in the North. 

Another vote also ruled that same-sex marriage will also be legalised if the executive is not restored by the same date.

Today, the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches called on the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith to recall the Assembly.

They also hit out at the way in which it was passed without what they say was the consent of those in the North.

“There is no evidence that these changes reflect the will of the people affected by them, as they were not consulted,” the statement reads.

“They go far beyond the ‘hard cases’ some have been talking about.”

The church leaders also called on parties in the North to compromise to prevent the legislation from passing, adding that they hoped to meet with Julian Smith to discuss their concerns.

“Our Northern Ireland political parties have it in their own hands to do something about this,” they said.

“They all need to take risks and make the compromises necessary to find an accommodation that will restore the devolved institutions.”

Talks in Northern Ireland have repeatedly stalled since power-sharing collapsed following the resignation of Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister in January 2017.

It has been suggested that the amendments could help plot a path back to Stormont by removing some of the more contentious political issues from Northern Ireland politics.

While polling data is limited, there is a general sense that the majority of population in Northern Ireland support a change in abortion laws.

However, survey evidence suggests that support and opposition are often manifested in the binaries of unionist and nationalist politics, with the majority of Sinn Féin voters in favour of legalising abortion and the majority of DUP voters opposed.

With reporting from Dominic McGrath.

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