11A.—(1) Without prejudice to section 58 and section 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 and subject to subsection (2) any person who ends the life of an unborn child at any stage of that child’s development shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to a period of not more than ten years’ imprisonment and a fine.
(2) It shall be a defence for any person charged with an offence under this section to show—
(a) that the act or acts ending the life of an unborn child were lawfully performed at premises operated by a Health and Social Care Trust, or
(b) that the act or acts ending the life of the unborn child were lawfully performed without fee or reward in circumstances of urgency when access to premises operated by a Health and Social Care Trust was not possible.
(3) For the purposes of this section a person ends the life of an unborn child if that person does any act, or causes or permits any act, with the intention of bringing about the end of the life of an unborn child, and, by reason of any such act, the life of that unborn child is ended.
(4) For the purposes of this section ‘lawfully’ in subsection (2) means in accordance with any defence or exception under section 58 and section 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945."
I bring forward the amendment with the support of my colleagues Mr Alban Maginness MLA and Tom Elliott MLA. I pay tribute to them for their support and work undertaken in the Justice Committee when we examined this issue. I extend that remark to my party colleagues and to Patsy McGlone, who, with Alban Maginness from the outset, showed strong determination on this issue in the Committee. I also thank other members of the Justice Committee who were perhaps less enthusiastic but whose scrutiny ensured that the amendment brought to the House is well thought out to achieve a clear objective.
In bringing forward the amendment, I have been humbled and immensely gratified by the support that it has received from across the political and religious spectrums in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. The protection of vulnerable women and unborn children is an issue that transcends normal politics and religious boundaries. Although I and colleagues in the House have disagreed on other matters, many of us have found unity of purpose on this issue. That applies not just in this jurisdiction. Only last week, in the Dáil, I briefed TDs and Senators, including Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin and his colleague Éamon Ó Cuiv and Fine Gael members about this matter. I was encouraged by the support from many of those who took time to meet me and my colleague Diane Dodds MEP.
Across the island of Ireland, we share a common bond in seeking to protect and provide the best care for mothers and unborn children. We are recognised globally as one of the premier providers of maternal care. That this common political bond has been replicated across our religious communities is demonstrated by support from the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Catholic Church. People ask what a shared future looks like, and I point to this moment of an SDLP, DUP and Ulster Unionist bringing forward proposed legislation related to the most basic of human rights; the right to life.
Unfortunately, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party have already determined their position. To Sinn Féin, I say that I support what the deputy First Minister said on 'Inside Politics', when the Marie Stopes clinic first opened. Last October, he said:
"Well it's a private institution, and I suppose some of us who know Dawn Purvis for a long time are a bit surprised that someone who would be a very strong advocate for the health service is now into effectively a private position within an institution that is setting itself up as something which is, if you like, a competitor to what's happening within the health service".
I do not say that to embarrass him or Sinn Féin but to demonstrate that we should be as one on the point that the NHS is where vulnerable women and their unborn children should be cared for, not a private clinic making financial gain.
Does he agree that with the petition of concern we are today witnessing the ideological meltdown of Sinn Féin. We expect woolly thinking from members of the Alliance Party and the Green Party, but Sinn Féin is avowedly socialist — some would even say Marxist — in its policies. Yet, today we have them supporting an institution that is not only privately run but unregulated. When I look at Sinn Féin's economic policy on its website, I find that the party:
"called for the end to the misuse of taxpayers money in supporting private healthcare".
It may be OK to ask your friends to pay for private healthcare, but, in this case, it is obviously an ideological point that they cannot run away from. We have known for some time that Sinn Féin is morally bankrupt in everything that it has been involved in over the past 40 years. However, I know that the Member will agree with me that what we have here today is an example of its ideological bankruptcy.
I thank the Member for her intervention. Sinn Féin, as a party, needs to justify why it has disagreed with Martin McGuinness to support the unregulated privatisation of abortion and, in the face of cross-party and cross-community support for the amendment, acted to block this effort.
The issue of abortion is one that generates high emotions on both sides of the argument, whether that be pro-life or pro-choice, but it is important that Members consider what is actually in the amendment and not what some in the media or some politicians have portrayed it to be. The amendment does not change the law on the terms of the grounds upon which an abortion is carried out. What it does do is prevent unregulated, unaccountable private clinics making financial gain from vulnerable women and their unborn children. It ensures that, in terrible, life-threatening circumstances, the best care is provided free at the point of need in the NHS.
I regret that Minister Ford has sought to undermine the normal parliamentary procedures that exist in this Assembly for Members to bring forward amendments. It is for Assembly Members, who are elected to represent the people, to legislate on issues of public interest. When the Marie Stopes clinic opened last year, there was public outcry and calls for action, which I know many Members in this House heard very clearly. As responsible legislators, we examined the issue in the Justice Committee. Today is the culmination of much work, done in a timely manner, and shows to the public that this Assembly does actually listen and has relevance.
Let me make some progress, and I will give way when I finish the point.
On the principle of requiring public consultation, the amendment is no different from the amendment that abolishes the scandalising of the court, or the Minister's amendment, which will be considered later, in respect of Sunday court openings; neither of which had public consultation. Unlike his amendment, we have had public debate on this amendment for almost two weeks. I believe that the public's voice has been heard. Again, I regret that at no point did the Minister seek to meet me, despite, on Friday of last week, me making repeated phone calls and leaving messages asking for the Minister to speak with me. Instead, he took to writing letters to Members and to broadcasting on the airwaves unnecessary confusion and alarm to cynically manufacture opposition to the amendment.
I welcome the Health Minister's statement that the morning-after pill, the fitting of an intrauterine device (IUD) and the dispensing of the progesterone-only contraceptive pill would be unaffected by the amendment. The most basic reading of the amendment makes it clear that proof is required that life has been ended. In each of those instances, there is no proof that life ever began in either fertilisation or implantation.
The Alliance Party and David Ford have acted in an underhand and duplicitous manner. I will respect someone who is upfront and honest, even when I do not agree with them. I regret, however, the tactics that have been deployed in opposing the amendment. The consequences of this action will have a lasting effect. To the public, I say: beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.
Turning to the detail in the amendment, subsection (1) of new clause 11A makes clear that existing legislation will remain in place and be available for the prosecution to bring forward a charge based upon those provisions. The amendment uses modern, simple, clear language, and provides an additional option for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to consider in the event of taking a case forward. The prosecutor could consider, based upon the circumstances, what charge to bring using the particular legislation that is most appropriate. That may be to seek life imprisonment or up to 10 years in prison with a fine. It will be for the prosecution to decide.
Subsection 2(a) would, in summary, prevent private clinics ending the life of an unborn child. Should they do that, there would be no defence available for breaking the law, as that would be available only on premises operated by a health and social care trust, which must be satisfied that other defences that may justify an abortion would be met. The Health Minister's guidance will certainly assist clinicians in the NHS on that issue.
I thank the Member for giving way. I support the amendment. My concern is for women who are vulnerable and find themselves in life-threatening circumstances. Would a woman who finds herself in such a situation and who has attended a private clinic, such as Marie Stopes, receive the care required if a procedure were to result in a life-threatening complication? Would she have to pay for that care? If the answers to those questions are that her care cannot be met and that she would have to pay, does the Member agree that those who oppose the amendment are actually failing to protect vulnerable women?
The Member makes a very powerful contribution, and I hope that Members opposite who oppose this amendment will reflect on those comments.
Subsection (2)(b) makes provision for circumstances that cannot be envisaged. However, clearly, in the cases of urgency when a trust facility is not available, a defence can be made for ending the life of an unborn child. I cannot imagine circumstances where this would happen, but it is prudent for legislators to make such provision, as, obviously, nobody would seek to criminalise someone in this circumstance, bearing in mind that an assessment would need to be made that a defence exists for such an action.
Subsection (3) is self-explanatory for Members, and subsection (4) makes it clear that when referring to the term "lawfully" in subsection (2), this relates to any defence or exception that may exist under existing legislation.
Members need to ask themselves this: is the present criminal law on abortion effective in its protection of unborn children? Is there a way to tackle an increased risk of abortion under circumstances outside the law? Is it acceptable for an activity regulated only by the criminal law upon which a clinician seeks an exception or a defence for a fee to be paid to avail themselves of such an exception or defence? Can the health and life of mothers be as effectively safeguarded in a Marie Stopes clinic as in a hospital? I will seek to answer these questions, and, in doing so, I will address the question of the legislative competence of the Assembly to pass this amendment.
The Justice Committee considered this issue, and Members will be aware that a provision is outside the legislative competence of the Assembly if it is incompatible with any of the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights or is incompatible with European law. Abortion in Northern Ireland is a matter regulated by criminal law, primarily by two statutes: sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. Although some may point to the years in which these laws were enacted as a basis to criticise and to justify their calls for the Abortion Act 1967 to be extended to Northern Ireland, the legislation reflects, to this very day, the values of our society, which is a society that upholds the sanctity of human life and affirms the most basic, fundamental human right of all — the right to life.
Those who challenge these laws, as has been the case in recent days, seek a different debate to what this amendment is about. They want different laws. I will have that debate, and we can take our positions. But that is not what today's decision is about. This amendment ensures that our values, affirmed by previous Assemblies that voted against extending the 1967 Act, are not undermined.
Members will, rightly, ask whether it is compatible with European law. The answer is, most assuredly, yes, it is. In the event that a medical termination of a pregnancy is regarded as a service within the meaning of the 'Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union', is it, therefore, subject to the European rules on free movement related in these circumstances to article 57(d) "activities of the professions", and as such, is the amendment at variance with European law? On this issue, the Grogan case is cited, but it concerned abortions carried out in Great Britain, where abortion is explicitly provided for in statute. In Northern Ireland, abortion is governed solely by criminal law, and there is no pathway to an abortion, and, therefore, termination of pregnancy could not be defined as a service for the purposes of European law.
Does the Member accept that Marie Stopes does not shy away from acknowledging that it carries out illegal abortions all over the world? I have no doubt that it will do the same here in Northern Ireland.
I do agree. Members who have an interest in this subject will know that, at conferences, leading Marie Stopes people have said that their objective is to get into a country and carry out illegal abortions to liberalise the law through the back door. Members need to be cognisant of what organisation they are supporting today. Furthermore, the discussion around European law should focus on the treaty provisions, rather than the services directive, as article 2(2)(f) of the services directive of 2006 states that the directive shall not apply to:
"healthcare services whether or not they are provided via healthcare facilities, and regardless of the ways in which they are organised and financed at national level or whether they are public or private".
Therefore, even if a medical termination of a pregnancy is to be regarded as a service under the treaty, it does not fall within the remit of the services directive, as abortion would for EU purposes. I point out to Members that the directive was made after the Grogan case, which was in 1991.
Justification is another issue that Members need to consider. It could be argued that termination of a pregnancy is a service, and therefore a justification for the amendment would be required to over-ride the treaty, which is allowable in European law. European case law demonstrates why the amendment would undoubtedly be permissible as a restrictive measure. The amendment is concerned with ensuring the effectiveness of the criminal law, and the European Court of Justice, drawing on the approach to combat the negative effects of gambling, gave discretion to the legislature in Germany that took state control over gambling. It noted the moral, religious and cultural factors that the state might take to that service, which was challenged by Ladbrokes.
The House of Lords, in finding the fox hunting ban compatible with EU law, noted that the prevention of cruelty to animals was a fundamental interest of the nation, and it was within Parliament's margin of discretion to address the concerns, despite the impact on freedom to provide services, upon which the Countryside Alliance brought the case. How much more important is the protection of our mothers and unborn children as opposed to animals?
The values of our society are reflected in the criminal law that regulates abortion. The amendment has been supported across the religious community, with the Catholic Church, Presbyterian denominations, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Reformed Presbyterian Church all calling on Members to vote in favour of the amendment.
In accordance with article 4(2) of the Treaty on the European Union, the EU is to respect the national identities of its member states:
"inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government."
Recent European Court of Justice case law provides a useful overview of the approach that the court is likely to take to justification of any restriction. Stanleybet International Ltd and others brought a case against a member state, and the European Court said in its ruling that:
"A Member State seeking to ensure a particularly high level of protection may consequently, as the Court has acknowledged in its case-law, be entitled to take the view that it is only by granting exclusive rights to a single entity which is subject to strict control by the public authorities that it can tackle the risks connected with the betting and gaming sector and pursue the objective of preventing incitement to squander money on gambling and combating addiction to gambling with sufficient effectiveness ... the national public authorities may indeed legitimately consider that the fact that, in their capacity as overseer of the body holding the monopoly, they will have additional means of influencing the latter’s conduct outside the statutory regulating and monitoring mechanisms is likely to secure for them a better command over the supply of games of chance and better guarantees that implementation of their policy will be effective than in the case where those activities are carried on by private operators in a situation of competition, even if the latter are subject to a system of authorisation and a regime of supervision and penalties".
That is the way in which the German legislature has approached the issue of gambling. How much more important is ensuring the effectiveness of our law in protecting the unborn child and vulnerable women?
In the case taken by Omega against German authorities that prohibited a laser game that involved human targets — playing at killing people — the European Court of Justice said in its ruling that:
"in accordance with the conception prevailing in public opinion, the commercial exploitation of games involving the simulated killing of human beings infringed a fundamental value enshrined in the national constitution, namely human dignity."
This is virtual killing that we are talking about. Paragraph 35 of the Omega judgement says:
"Since both the Community and its Member States are required to respect fundamental rights, the protection of those rights is a legitimate interest which, in principle, justifies a restriction of the obligations imposed by Community law, even under a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the Treaty such as the freedom to provide services".
I make all these points because these issues were discussed by the Committee for Justice and were dealt with comprehensively. Yet today, Members are going to put those issues up as a smokescreen to oppose amendment No 1.
There is a suggestion, and in some cases an allegation, that in a male-dominated Assembly, men — that is, those of us here who are men — are unable to decide on this issue. I have my own view on that, and it is a view that I have shared with women in my family, who dominate my family, and women outside my family. Does the Chairperson of the Committee have an opinion on that which may help allay any fears that anyone may have outside or inside this Assembly that men are inadequate in making a decision on this issue?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Member makes a valid point and it has been put out there for those who oppose amendment No 1. The thousands of women who voted for me in Lagan Valley knew that I was a man when they did so and knew that I would represent the views that they hold very dearly.
I will be voting on amendment No 1, and I will expect those who take the view that a man should not be talking about this particular issue, and want to put that forward as a reason why I should not be doing it, to abstain in the vote. That would be the consistent and logical thing to do. It would be hypocrisy for men who are opposed to amendment No 1 on the basis that it is a women-only issue to vote against it. I will wait with interest to see how those male colleagues decide to vote in this particular interest.
I am going to move on and make progress.
The other issue around justification for a restrictive measure is its proportionality. A particularly interesting case, the European Commission versus Italy, provides another example. It involved an Italian prohibition on motorcycles towing trailers specially designed for them.
The trailers were lawfully produced and marketed in other member states, but their prohibition was regarded as justified by reasons that related to the protection of road safety. The court said:
"the fact that one Member State imposes less strict rules than another Member State does not mean that the latter's rules are disproportionate".
In respect of Italy demonstrating other forms of regulation to regulate trailers and motorcycles in terms of danger to road safety, the court said:
"burden of proof cannot be so extensive as to require the Member State to prove, positively, that no other conceivable measure could enable that objective to be attained under the same conditions ... Although it is possible, in the present case, to envisage that measures other than ... prohibition ... could guarantee a certain level of road safety ... Member States cannot be denied the possibility of attaining an objective such as road safety by the introduction of general and simple rules which will be easily understood and applied by drivers and easily managed and supervised by the competent authorities."
So, Italy acted in respect of road safety because they could not be certain of the standards that would be applied outside state control. I refer Members to the Hansard record of the evidence session attended by the representatives of Marie Stopes International (MSI), which even resulted in the 'Belfast Telegraph' saying that the delegation did themselves no favours by being evasive in many of their answers.
During that session, the MSI representatives did not say how many unborn children have lost their lives, nor did they share information about the clinical assessments that are used to determine compliance with the criminal law. Should we not act to protect human life, or do we believe that unregulated private clinics that operate for financial gain based on nothing else but their word will comply with the law?
I am going to make progress. The Member will have opportunity to make his point later.
The Justice Minister, in his letter that seeks to undermine the due process of the Assembly, says there is no urgency on the issue. That may be true on his part. Only when individual Members addressed the matter, after nearly six months when these serious gaps in the law were identified, has he sought to act, and he has done so in a way to frustrate those proposing this amendment. I do not recall the Minister of Justice commenting on the opening of an unregulated and unaccountable clinic by an organisation whose aim, as expressed at the Justice Committee, is children by choice not chance.
Once again, the Minister of Justice, Pontius Pilate-like, seeks to wash his hands of one of the most serious issues facing our Province. The Health Minister has published that guidance. However, the Justice Minister again fails to recognise that that guidance is applicable only to the NHS. That is the very reason why this amendment needs to be made.
The Minister will have his opportunity to dig his hole further later on.
The Justice Minister has, today, again laid responsibility on the Health Minister, who has acted by producing guidance. He has circulated that guidance within the Executive for the NHS. However, it is for the criminal law — [Interruption.]
It is for the criminal law and justice agencies to deal with abortion in private clinics, which the Justice Minister has responsibility for. Due to his ambivalence, the Justice Committee and individual Members of the House have had to do what he should have been doing.
My next point deals with the point made in the Minister's letter that MLAs should take time over this issue. In addressing the issue of urgency, the European Grand Chamber, in the case of an Italian ruling that prevented non-pharmacists from being involved or investing in retail pharmacy, said:
" It is important that, where there is uncertainty as to the existence or extent of risks to human health, a Member State should be able to take protective measures without having to wait until the reality of those risks becomes fully apparent."
I say to Members, in the face of what even the Justice Minister regards as unregulated and unaccountable private clinics that require attention — albeit belated, six months later — we cannot and should not, when dealing with the matter of human life, take the risk of allowing the reality of those risks to become fully apparent. It is much too grave a matter to play fast and loose politics with it.
My final point on proportionality, which is particularly relevant in the present context, concerns the finding of Lord Hope in the fox hunting case when considering EU law:
"the extent of the restriction has a part to play in the assessment of proportionality."
He noted that the fox hunting ban was aimed at activities in the UK and that interference with the free movement of goods and services was "purely incidental".
It is only by creating this specific modernised offence that the criminal law, which encapsulates the values of our society, can be made most effective through the National Health Service, which requires that trust boards have appropriate governance arrangements in place to ensure ongoing compliance with the law that governs termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland through robust systems of internal control, ensuring that policies and procedures for the day-to-day activities of the trust are implemented and followed.
Even in the event of some form of state regulation of abortion in private clinics — should that even be possible, which is entirely questionable — the very nature of the private clinic, which charges for abortion, presents an insurmountable challenge to effective regulation. Some Members will argue for that here today. Members should consider that, given the interests of both the willing seller of the abortion and the willing buyer, easily obtaining information to identify compliance with the criminal law and protection of the unborn child will be difficult, if not impossible. The actual or potential victim in this case — the unborn child protected by the criminal law — is not in a position to alert the authorities to any actual or anticipated breach of the criminal law. Even if an abortion were not criminal under the law of Northern Ireland and there was a positive legal pathway for it to take place in NHS facilities, exchanging money for ending the life of an unborn child should cause us all a serious moral dilemma. For many of us in the House, it is morally abhorrent that vulnerable women and their children, who are in grave physical and mental danger, should pay a private clinic in circumstances in which a life is to be ended. Financial gain from such misery should cause dismay to all of us.
We also have an obligation under article 2 to protect the life of all our citizens, including pregnant women. The discharge of that duty can be carried out only in institutions over which we have direct control in the context of an abortion, which is known to carry risk for the expectant mother, and when it will almost inevitably be the state that has to bear the responsibility for treating any adverse medical consequences to vulnerable women that arise from any private sector termination of a pregnancy. My colleague Michelle McIlveen made that point earlier.
The high value that the criminal law of Northern Ireland assigns to the life of the unborn child, with no fewer than three legislative provisions seeking to protect unborn life, is a powerful factor against simply taking a wait-and-see approach or exploring the possibility of increased regulation. Regulation would inevitably act only if evidence emerged of the possible commission of a criminal offence. Both the willing seller and the willing buyer are highly incentivised to avoid generating evidence of any offence. The unborn child has no voice to alert the authorities that an offence may be taking place.
That is particularly relevant in our context, in light of the known ideological position of Marie Stopes International, whose vision is — Members should listen to this — "Children by choice not chance." It opposes our criminal law, which protects our children, whether it is by choice or chance. It seeks and wants the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
I support the amendment, but, shamefully, the vote in the Assembly has already been predetermined by the blocking mechanism deployed by Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party. I appeal to Members to send a very clear message that we support vulnerable women and unborn children and call on the Justice Minister, who after six months has belatedly accepted that he has responsibility to act, to act quickly. That course of action is contained in the amendment.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Níl Sinn Féin i bhfách le ginmhilleadh. Vótáil Sinn Féin i gcoinne Acht 1967 a leathnú go dtí an Tuaisceart nuair a moladh sin sa Tionól. Creideann Sinn Féin gur chóir don ghinmhilleadh a bheith ar fáil i gcás éignithe, droch-úsáide gnéasaí, col, nó i gcás ina bhfuil beatha mná torraí i mbaol.
I begin by setting out the Sinn Féin position on abortion. Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion. We opposed and voted against the extension of the 1967 Act to the North of Ireland when it was proposed in the Assembly. That remains our position. Sinn Féin believes that, in the case of rape, sexual abuse or incest or when a pregnant woman's life is in danger, the option of termination should be available. That has been our position for some time, and it remains our position. Sinn Féin also believes that the issue should be addressed in a comprehensive manner, involving a multiagency response that develops effective services for sexual health and sex education, fuller access to child support provision and specific support for single parents.
In our party, there is a wide range of views on the issue, as you would expect, as there is on many issues. Over the past number of days, I have spoken with many members of my party. Many people have differing issues and concerns, which I respect. What struck me at our latest discussion was the sense of camaraderie and respect for other people's opinions. It is on days like this that I am proud to be a member of Sinn Féin.
When this issue has arisen in the past, I have listened carefully to contributions from individuals in other parties. Most recently, some of those individuals have conceded that they, too, support the need for a woman to have the option of a termination when her life is at risk. Two of the signatories to today's amendment — Paul Givan of the DUP and Alban Maginness of the SDLP — confirmed on radio that they supported termination when a mother's life is in danger. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt, has indicated that he will vote against the amendment, and comments from the DUP leader, Peter Robinson, in the 'Belfast Telegraph' last year suggest that he, too, is of a similar mind. So, it is not unreasonable to pose this question: why was the amendment tabled?
The amendment represents the wishes and views of a few. It is a clear attempt to restrict the ability of a woman whose life is at risk to seek a termination that would save her life. It runs contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, and those who tabled it should be ashamed of themselves. Their underlying intention has been concealed in legal speak, mixed messaging and attempts to sow confusion. They have even sought to exploit this important issue for cheap electoral gains in the recent Mid Ulster by-election. They have come up with one red herring after another and one excuse after another. When we strip away their excuses, the weak rationale for their position is absolutely exposed. I very much look forward to hearing and seeing how people — men and women — across the House vote on this. [Interruption.]
Excuse number one: it is an issue of private healthcare versus public healthcare. In Sinn Féin's view, in an ideal world all aspects of health would be dealt with in the National Health Service. I would have more respect for the position of the DUP and Alban Maginness if they were consistent on this, but they are not. They maybe should have led the demand for the publication of the guidance from the Health Minister, for which we have all been waiting so patiently for a long period. They maybe should have waited until that guidance was published, analysed, debated and made fit for purpose. They maybe should have taken actions to ensure that, in the traumatic circumstances in which a woman might find herself pregnant and her life at risk, the National Health Service would be there for her. Maybe then we could listen to their argument about emergency procedures — [Interruption.]
— outside the National Health Service. Of course, the reality is that the National Health Service is heavily dependent on private health referrals from NHS to private clinics for a wide range of treatments. Currently, a significant number of National Health Service operations are carried out in private health clinics funded by the taxpayer. The failure of the Health Minister to have guidance in place to give clinicians the legal assurance required to allow them to intervene in life-threatening circumstances at the request of the mother — [Interruption.]
— represents gross negligence on his behalf. In the absence of proper guidance, there can be no other conclusion but that the amendment is aimed at ensuring that no other avenue will be open to a woman in a life-threatening situation to opt for a termination . Where a termination might or might not take place is not the issue. The important thing is that it happens within the law. Any institution that provides for termination, whether in the National Health Service or the private healthcare domain, must, of course, be regulated. However, the amendment is not about medical emergencies or ensuring that women get the best treatment in those difficult circumstances; it is about limiting women's right to have that treatment.
Excuse number two: we are not really changing the law. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard Alban Maginness yesterday getting himself further entangled on the hook in an interview. He said something like "It is not really changing the law". This is the Criminal Justice Bill. If it does not change the law, what does it do? It is an amendment to the law. If it were supported today, the law would change. That is the whole point of legislation. We have a letter from the Minister of Justice to every MLA outlining his concerns about what it might mean. [Interruption.]
The Health Minister, Mr Poots, has not bathed himself in glory, spending his energy on having a public legal spat with the Minister of Justice instead of doing the job that he is supposed to be doing. We await his guidelines with interest. If reports of them are anything to go by, he has missed an opportunity to introduce guidelines that comprehensively deal with this important issue.
Excuse number three is that Marie Stopes —
I thank the Member for giving way. The Member mentioned the document produced by the Health Minister. Does the Member agree that it was rather discourteous, to say the least, that that document was released to Mark Carruthers of the BBC on Sunday in a TV programme rather than being distributed at least to the members of the Health Committee?
I was not aware of how it was circulated, but, on this matter, the Health Minister has many questions to answer.
Excuse number three is that the Marie Stopes clinic is not regulated. I listened carefully to what the representatives from Marie Stopes had to say about regulation and the law. They at all times stated that they wanted to work within the law. It is strange, though, that the same Paul Givan and Alban Maginness did not seem to be concerned about the regulation of other clinics. Each time they took a position, they landed themselves in another mess.
Tabling this amendment is perhaps the worst example that we have seen to date in the Assembly of stroke politics. The amendment is about trying to close down the Marie Stopes clinic, and, as a result, limiting the opportunity for a woman to exercise the option of a termination when her life is in danger. The Members who tabled the amendment should have the courage to say so. This was an attempt to bring us back instead of forward. It was an attempt to criminalise women in vulnerable situations, and it is unacceptable. The criminal justice arena is not the place to deal with a sensitive healthcare issue such as this.
It is ironic that Paul Givan has described the use of a petition of concern to block the amendment that he and the SDLP — I should say, some members of the SDLP — have tabled as cynical. In the past two years, the petition of concern has been used on just over a dozen occasions: seven times by the DUP on its own; three times by the UUP and DUP together, presumably at the instigation of the Ulster Unionist Party, who needed DUP support; and the remainder by Sinn Féin and the SDLP together. So, on a majority of occasions, the petition of concern has been used by a single party — the DUP — as a means of blocking motions in the Assembly. The petition of concern is a safeguard to ensure that critical decisions are made on a cross-community basis. If ever there was a need to use one, it is now, to stop the introduction of draconian legislation.
I thank Steven Agnew from the Green Party and Anna Lo from the Alliance Party. I also thank the other 28 Members from Sinn Féin, who, along with me, signed the petition of concern. It contrasts with the failure of leadership in how we deal with these issues on this island. In the South, the failure to legislate is nothing short of disgraceful. Despite Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights rulings, the X case of a 13-year-old girl who became pregnant after rape and the most recent tragic death of a young woman, Savita Halappanavar in Galway, we still do not have legislation. What happened to that young woman should not be allowed to happen again [Interruption.]
The absence of legislative implementation of these judgements has created very dangerous grey areas in which, as we all now know too well, women can die. Five successive Governments in the South of Ireland have failed to legislate.
In the North, the track record of the authorities is little better than it has been in the South: the withdrawal of guidance needed to bring the clarity that ensures that medical practitioners in the health service have the assurance and support of the law to allow them to carry out their work and, when required, act to save lives.
Statistics tell us that restriction of access does not prevent women from procuring terminations. That is evidenced by the estimated — I stress "estimated" — 7,000 Irish women who travel to other jurisdictions every year to access terminations. If we further restrict the ability of women to access services to which they are legally entitled, we will add further and unnecessary risk by forcing those women to procure abortifacient medications from the internet in the absence of medical supervision.
The amendment is clearly an attempt to restrict the right of a woman to obtain a termination in life-threatening circumstances. It is an attempt to further compound our trauma by marginalising women at a time in our life when we are most vulnerable. Are we to wait until we have a repeat of the Savita Halappanavar case before we are shaken to our senses? [Interruption.]
Are we to wait for another tragedy before those who tabled the amendment cease to play with the lives of women? Are we to continue to foment confusion, or are we to bring clarity and certainty to the need for the rights of a woman in this particularly difficult situation? Tagging this amendment on to the Further Consideration Stage of a miscellaneous provisions Criminal Justice Bill does a grave disservice to the issue and insults women who have undergone the termination of a much-wanted pregnancy that threatened their life. The use of an amendment in this instance bypasses the need for public consultation and disenfranchises the public from having their say on this important and sensitive issue. It is bizarre that we would publicly consult for a minimum of 12 weeks on the High Hedges Act, but we did not seek the views of the public and medical practitioners on this.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I speak as an individual and as party spokesperson on behalf of the SDLP, which has consistently and always been a pro-life party, be it in the defence of life for adults or the most vulnerable — the unborn. I speak out of compassion for the mother and, similarly, out of compassion for her child, particularly those most vulnerable — the unborn.
I have just left a group of people who have been very active in delivering a petition, signed by a quarter of a million people, to the Assembly, and they are deeply concerned about what is happening here today. They are concerned about the defence of the most vulnerable in our society — the unborn child.
Mr Speaker, I support the amendment proposed by the cross-party and cross-community group of Members. It reflects the widespread support for strict regulation of abortion here in the North and across the island of Ireland. Any private organisation in the North offering to abort the life of an unborn child would currently do so outside the remit of regulatory bodies. That being the case, there would be insufficient oversight of those private organisations in the current framework. The amendment addresses that issue head-on and resolves it in a straightforward manner.
Does the Member accept that the amendment is about regulating all abortions in Northern Ireland by bringing them clearly and singularly into the health service? Is the Member aware that, in 2011, a Marie Stopes doctor was struck off for his treatment of five patients, including an Irish woman? She was left fighting for her life after Marie Stopes in London carried out an abortion on her. The doctor perforated the woman's uterus and left part of her unborn baby inside her. When she returned to Ireland, she was rushed to hospital and spent three months there. Is that a credible organisation to carry out abortions in Northern Ireland?
I hear very carefully what the Member has said. Indeed, the amendment addresses that issue. It says to us that the purpose of the amendment is to bring any control, regulation or treatment that a patient may receive in regard to an abortion in the exceptional circumstances where an abortion is legally permitted into the National Health Service.
I am delighted that the Member has given way. I want to point out that Marie Stopes in Northern Ireland does not perform any surgical operations. It only gives oral medication within the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
Is the Member contradicting the person that she co-signed the petition of concern with, who said that it was there for emergencies? If it is some sort of pill, it is not going to deal with an emergency situation.
I thank the Member for his intervention. I hear more clarity today from some Members around Marie Stopes than I did when it gave evidence to the Committee for Justice. I found it most elusive, most evasive, and absent was any detail or clarity around its functions and role. It was most disappointing to have it there. Any Member who was sitting there wanted to be informed about its role and what it does, whether we like it or not or whether we agree or disagree with it. The circumstances in which the life —
There will be plenty of time for Members to respond later. I am interested in the discourse here if it contributes to the debate, but Members can use their own time for a bit of ping-pong back and forward.
The circumstances in which the life of an unborn child may be lawfully ended are, quite rightly, restricted to the most serious cases in which the life of the mother is at risk. As I have heard others argue, the amendment does not undermine any pregnant woman's ability to receive emergency treatment in life-threatening circumstances. That emergency treatment is readily available in the NHS, and the amendment does not, as some claim, shut down debate. Those who advocate the liberalisation of the law on this issue can do so only through the Assembly. They are free to attempt to convince elected Members of the need for and the benefits, as they see them, of such liberalisation of the law. They have failed utterly to do so.
The amendment removes the potential for a private and for-profit organisation to attempt to circumvent the law on abortion and to break the law on abortion by operating outside the regulatory framework. The pro-abortion lobby is keen to push the boundaries of the law on the issue. Many suspect that that is the motivation behind the sudden appearance of a Marie Stopes International clinic in Belfast. It is not appropriate for private organisations, be they for profit or not, to seek to undermine the law while hiding their activities from public scrutiny.
The Assembly remains the primary place for legislation on this and other matters. Guidelines on the limited circumstances for lawful termination in Northern Ireland are currently being consulted on. They should clarify the issue for all concerned. The amendment, if passed, will help to ensure that those guidelines are followed. Tacaím leis an leasú. I support the amendment.
Clearly, this is a sensitive, delicate, and emotive issue. It would be useful if everyone tempered their remarks, because many people in the community are in distress about this matter. However, it is an important issue for those vulnerable women in our society who need help and support. It is up to this legislative body to provide them with the confidence and assurance that they are getting the proper advice, support and help when they need them.
Maybe because of today's debate, this issue will be the subject of more discussion and debate. There may be further opportunities not just for those in this House but for the wider public to take forward that debate. However, I am concerned that if the amendment is rejected, an unregulated process will be ongoing that provides an opportunity for people and organisations that are possibly unscrupulous and do not have the best interests of those vulnerable women at heart.
This is not about just public versus private health. This is about ensuring that all those in need of advice, treatment and support can have the confidence — and we can have the confidence — that those giving that support, treatment and advice are doing so in the best interests of those vulnerable individuals who come forward for that help.
The problem is that this is a matter of criminal law, and one of the difficulties that we have is that it is unregulated. I cannot support an unregulated advice and treatment process for those very vulnerable people. That is my difficulty in this process.
Has the Member made any attempt to seek an update as to whether Marie Stopes is entering into the regulatory framework delivered by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA)?
I thank the Member for that. When representatives of Marie Stopes were in front of the Justice Committee and I asked them that very question, they said they were making moves towards that. However, there is no basis, as I understand it, for the proper regulation of it. The RQIA does not have to do it. In the end, it is a voluntary process, which, as we all know, is worth very little if those who are organising it and running it do not want to avail themselves of it. I will give way.
Will the honourable Member accept that many of us will be shocked by Mr Lyttle's comments, because he shows a complete ignorance of the role of the RQIA? The RQIA is there to ensure basic hygiene, car parking and staffing levels. The RQIA has absolutely no say in the moral judgements as to whether an abortion should be carried out or not. Therefore, RQIA regulation is utterly meaningless as far as the fundamental issue here is concerned: whether the abortion was carried out within the law. I am surprised, as I am sure he is, that someone should stand up and show his ignorance on this issue by not knowing his facts.
I am not going to speak for the Health Minister under any circumstances, particularly these circumstances. He is well able to speak for himself. However, the point as I understand it is that there is no process for regulation. That is the difficulty that we have and why those who signed the petition of concern are allowing that process to go ahead with an unregulated system. That is the problem that we have.
As always, Mr Speaker, I am too generous; that is my difficulty. The fact is that we and the public need a wider debate on the matter. Without regulation, I am fearful for the help and support that these vulnerable women require and for the life of the unborn child. That is my first and foremost concern, which is why I signed and support the amendment. We all have a duty here to protect the rights of women and the rights of the unborn child, particularly —
I thank the Member for giving way. He has been the soul of generosity to the House today in giving way. There have been various suggestions about the good faith or otherwise of Marie Stopes. Much has been made of it, and we are left to make a judgement, correctly or not. Does the Member agree that the amendment covers any private health clinic, not only those that are here now but those that may come in the future? It is wrong to base a decision on whether the amendment should be accepted on the good faith or otherwise of a single health clinic. The amendment is supposed to cover all situations.
I totally accept the Member's suggestion. That is why it is important, that is why it is vital, that we have a proper regulation system in place before any private clinic of this description is permitted to operate.
I hope that we recognise and support all those people who are in need of help at this time and that it is people who are vulnerable and in need of support whom we are trying to protect and help. I thank you for that, Mr Speaker.
My party wholeheartedly agrees that the regulation of lawful abortions not on health and social care trust premises in Northern Ireland requires attention and careful consideration. However, we believe that this is the wrong way to go about trying to address the issue.
As a legislative Assembly, we have a responsibility to consult and engage properly with the public on major changes to the law, and today's amendment, by any definition, is a major change. Indeed, in the few short weeks since the amendment has appeared, the strength of feeling and lobbying, and the hundreds of interviews, conversations, blogs, articles and debates have demonstrated the absolute necessity for formal consultation so that all voices can be heard and all opinions expressed in a structured and meaningful way.
The Justice Committee spent many hours taking evidence and going through the Bill line by line — rightly so. However, we have not done that for this amendment. The Bill will introduce legislative change regarding sex offender notification requirements, DNA and fingerprint retention, and how we deal with the trafficking of human beings. The changes proposed by Mr Givan and Mr Maginness are of no less importance and, therefore, deserve exactly the same level of scrutiny and consultation. If we as legislators are to do our job, we have a responsibility to do that diligently and in a way that is structured and allows us to take evidence and have thoughtful reflection. We have a responsibility to go through a Bill line by line. That allows us to scrutinise proposals and give us the very best opportunity to reflect on the mandates that we hold and to protect the integrity of the law and the constituents whom we represent.
What message will we convey, therefore, about the importance of every stage of the legislative process if we make major changes to the law that have not been discussed in the prescribed way of scrutiny in all our relevant Statutory Committees? It is extremely disappointing that Mr Givan, who holds the important responsibility of Chair of the Justice Committee, and Mr Maginness, who is a learned counsel, should use the methods that they have chosen to introduce major legislative change rather than give the Bill the due process and respect that it deserves, and the public the right to be consulted. This opportunism is populist and to the detriment of the House and society as a whole.
The passage of the amendment would have even more damaging consequences for the women and families it affects. It proposes to render the provision of lawful abortion unlawful other than that which is carried out on health and social care trust premises. That gives little consideration to women who may have undergone all related treatment in a private facility.
At this point, it needs to be pointed out that it is not about the Marie Stopes clinic: it is about — not clinics that may come to Northern Ireland — a range of clinics that already deliver that service in Northern Ireland today. Not all of them do so at the point of delivery for profit, which has been suggested in remarks about Marie Stopes. There will be women who have paid into health insurance. Parents may even have paid into health insurance for a younger woman. At the time when the health insurance was taken out, they would have done so without knowing of or imagining the tragic moment when the service would be required and the young woman would go to a private facility and avail herself of the health insurance that she never believed for a second that she would ever have to use.
That gives little consideration to women who may have to undergo all related treatment at a private facility up to the point at which it is decided that an abortion under the law is required. During such a sensitive and intensely personal process, women could then face unfamiliar staff and surroundings, which could bring further grief and distress in an already, for many, intolerable situation. In such a situation, when the patient may feel as though everything is in flux, as much stability and consistency as possible needs to be provided.
This amendment proposes to force women into public facilities, even when they may have been helped and guided through that most difficult of journeys in a private facility by staff whom they have come to trust and depend upon. To be faced with new people in new circumstances and alien surroundings will place an additional and potentially intolerable burden on someone who is at her most vulnerable and, potentially, suicidal. Not only is that unfair, it is unnecessary if we are to agree on sensible alternative proposals for regulating the providers of the process.
There is a role for the RQIA. The Health Minister has said that he will look at that, although he has been kicked and dragged screaming through the courts in order to do so. As to the role of the RQIA, reference has been made to its existing role. Well, if that role needs to be enhanced, that is the Health Minister's responsibility. So, why are we not, today, having a health debate which requires the Health Minister to bring forward proposals? Indeed, if there is a belief that the RQIA is insufficient to provide that robust regulation, then let the Health Minister regulate. Tell us where those deficiencies lie, Minister. [Interruption.]
Let him bring forward the appropriate changes to the regulatory framework. We should not turn to criminal law as our first option, but rather to the appropriate health regulation.
There is a real danger that the amendment will complicate the legal process and cause much further confusion. Members have said that the amendment is clear. If it were clear, we would not be debating the possible consequences of its implementation. Again, that is why full consultation is needed on such an important matter.
" an unborn child at any stage of that child’s development", which is undefined and is not found anywhere else in UK or Irish legislation. The legislation that is proposed in the amendment would also run parallel to existing legislation that provides for a lesser penalty. It raises a number of questions. For example, why have higher penalties for illegal abortions that are carried out on health and social care trust premises? For effective prosecution, ambiguity needs to be removed, not enhanced. That brings uncertainty to prosecutors and is, therefore, a further reason why the measure is unsound.
Furthermore, there are potential clashes with existing European law, which could lead to unnecessary proceedings at European level, and which, if this amendment had been properly considered, could have been scoped out well in advance. This takes us back to the fact that those who tabled the amendment, in their eager efforts to produce something that looks like regulation, have put something forward that falls far short of a worthy and considered amendment.
They have not properly developed, properly consulted on or properly considered the full impact of this policy. The women of Northern Ireland deserve better. We all deserve better. It is for those reasons that I am opposed to this amendment today.
Finally, if we want to have an abortion debate, let us have that debate and let us deal with those difficult issues, but let us not pretend that this ill-thought-out amendment either moves us forward or does anything adequate to protect the health and rights of women and the unborn child.
This is one of the most sensitive issues that we will deal with. At the commencement, I want to say that we should place women and the unborn child at the forefront of our considerations. We should do the best for the women of Northern Ireland, and they should receive the very best healthcare. That healthcare and support should be provided in the National Health Service to give them the best care at the most critical time of their lives.
Northern Ireland has a proud record of being pro-life. By not extending the Abortion Act 1967, there are some 90,000 people — 90,000 people — alive today. That is greater than, or certainly very close to, the number in any of our parliamentary constituencies. Is there anybody who would seriously argue that that was a mistake?
First, will he give us the evidence for that by telling us what his figures are based on? Secondly, does he have evidence of how many of those children are in care today and how many are living in poverty or deprivation? [Interruption.]
I think that that is disappointing, but at least it is honest. The Green Party is pro-abortion, and it wants to extend the Abortion Act 1967. The shameful thing today is that the pro-abortionist in the Alliance Party, Anna Lo, who is leading her party on this, is going to carry Sinn Féin across the line in bringing in abortion by the back door in Northern Ireland. The pro-abortion leader in the Alliance Party, Anna Lo, along with the pro-abortion Green Party, will bring Sinn Féin across the line. Today, if never before, Sinn Féin has defined itself as the pro-abortion party for Northern Ireland. The reality is that a democratic deceit like no other has been perpetrated in the House. Sinn Féin knows that its Members are divided on the issue.
I will in a moment.
Its Members are divided on the issue, and I know that that is the case. On matters of conscience, I say to Sinn Féin, even at this stage, to come back to a pro-life position. Do not be led by the nose by Caitríona Ruane. Those on your Benches who know that it is wrong to take the life of an unborn child should not be complicit in actions that bring in abortion by the back door in Northern Ireland. Why is the democratic deceit of Sinn Féin so bad? It is because the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Church of Ireland have spoken. As Patsy McGlone told us, a quarter of a million people across Northern Ireland have spoken. On a cross-community basis, Northern Ireland does not want to bring in extra abortion. A democratic deceit is being used to bring in abortion by the back door. However, Sinn Féin could not have brought in abortion by the back door on its own.
I will in a moment.
Sinn Féin could not have brought in abortion by the back door on its own. It needed to be carried across by the Green Party and the Alliance Party. I ask those people who boast of their Presbyterianism to listen to what the Presbyterian Church has told them. Or is it the case, as it is for their leader —
The amendment is already defeated because the Alliance Party and the Green Party have refused to listen to the cross-community view of Northern Ireland. They have refused to listen to the democratic will of the House. A simple whip from the Alliance Party would have stopped the petition of concern. I ask Sinn Féin Members, before they go through the Lobbies, to examine their conscience. Surely —
In a moment.
Surely the most vulnerable life in our society is the life of the unborn child. Those boys and girls have nobody to speak for them. They are totally reliant on what we do in this House. They are protected by the cross-community will of Northern Ireland. However, a democratic deceit has been perpetrated against them. Not for the first time, the Alliance Party has carried Sinn Féin across the line.
Is it not a shame that, in our United Kingdom, the most dangerous place for a child is in its mother's womb? The place in which, by fact, it is most likely to be harmed and hurt is in the mother's womb. That is why we were right to protect life. That is why the Alliance Party voters — I spoke to many of them, from Kircubbin right the way down — want us to protect life. But, no: a democratic deceit had to be perpetrated.
The reality of that intervention is that it was as weak and unconvincing as Caitríona Ruane's attempt to explain birdwatching in Colombia. There are times when I am glad that Sinn Féin takes an abstentionist position at Westminster. If the Member of Parliament were to take that level of pure idiotic argument to the House of Commons, whatever would they think of us?
I thank the Member for giving way. It is as ridiculous as suggesting that those Members in Westminster who support the reduction in the threshold for abortion there are voting for abortion.
The honourable Member makes the case very well. That level of nonsense has come forward from Sinn Féin Members, yet they know that their voters do not want abortion brought into Northern Ireland. That is why they have run from this debate. They know that the voters of Northern Ireland, on a cross-community basis, want the unborn child to be protected.
In cases where a clinician makes a decision, we will support the law. No extension — absolutely none — has been proposed beyond what is there currently.
There have been attempts to smear and cause deceit. All that the Justice Minister's comments about potentially the law this and potentially the law that have done is to show someone who is not across his brief, and who is trying to lead the Alliance Party in two different directions.
Does the Member accept that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are totally opposed to abortion and support the protection of the unborn child? Does he agree with me that, distinctively, there is no difference between a surgical abortion and a medical abortion?
In a moment; let me make some progress. That is why there has been the charade of the abuse of the petition of concern.
Overwhelmingly, Northern Ireland is very clear. Our churches are clear, our people are clear and, overwhelmingly, the women of Northern Ireland are clear that they want the life of the unborn child to be protected. [Interruption.]
On a cross-community basis, the women of Northern Ireland — many of them were among the quarter of a million of our people who signed a petition — are very clear that they do not want the Abortion Act extended to Northern Ireland. So, the question before us is why did Members of the Alliance Party take Sinn Féin across the line on abortion. Why did they do that? They know in their hearts that there is overwhelming support, on a cross-community basis, for the amendment that has been so excellently proposed. They know in their hearts that Roman Catholics, Protestants, Presbyterians. Methodists, those of Islamic religions, those of Jewish religions and those of no religion overwhelming want this amendment to be passed. In those circumstances, why did they chose to use a petition of concern to deny the cross-community will of Northern Ireland and the will of the House?
Once again, the Alliance Party has proven itself to be nothing more than a flag of convenience for Sinn Féin. It has provided a flag of convenience to bring in abortion into Northern Ireland via the back door. I ask why this was put back — [Interruption.]
In a moment.
I do ask why, when you know that our people, on a cross-community basis, do not want it. You had the opportunity; you could have let this go to a vote in the House and let the democratically elected people of Northern Ireland make their decision. However, in the knowledge that a cross-community majority in Northern Ireland wanted this amendment and that the House would vote for it, you took away the democratic rights of the Northern Ireland people —
Is it not somewhat ironic that the Alliance Party, which has been the greatest complainant about petitions of concern because they make its votes nugatory, has allowed one of its Members to sign this petition of concern, which means that none of its votes will count today. None of them can go through the Lobbies with any effect because, as a result of Ms Lo, their votes no longer count.
Just before I allow Ms Lo to come in, because she has asked to get in a couple of times: Mr Speaker, I raised the issue of the petition of concern because it is directly related to the amendment. The amendment was defeated before we got to our feet. Unborn children will not be protected by the House because the Alliance Party is the flag of convenience for Sinn Féin. That is the direct link to the amendment.
Order. Yes, and I understand that a petition of concern has been presented to the House, and of course Members are allowed to debate that issue. But Members also need to be careful that it is not a continuing debate just on the petition of concern; their comments should be linked in some way to the amendment.
I wholeheartedly accept the Member's heartfelt, personal pro-life stance. If the Member is so concerned about the issue in that way, why has he not brought up that measure of concern prior to the advent of Marie Stopes, which seems to have been the touchstone for the debate today? The circumstances that he describes of not protecting the unborn child pertained long before Marie Stopes ever arrived on the scene in Northern Ireland.
It was always about protecting women. We heard examples earlier: the best place to protect, support, encourage and help women in whatever way they need is the National Health Service. That is what your church has told me. I hope that you are not like your leader: one thing on a Sunday and a different thing on a Monday. [Interruption.]
Is it not the case that we in the West should hang our heads in abject shame? We have to face the truth that in the West, we have destroyed more viable human life than Hitler ever put into a gas chamber. You may not want to hear the truth. You may reject the truth, but it has to be out there, and may God forgive us for what we have done in this House today — the God who said he knew us and formed us in our mother's womb. I believe that those boys and girls who are in their mother's womb are being let down by the House not allowing a free vote, not allowing a cross-community vote across Northern Ireland, and instead bringing in abortion by the back door. Are we not ashamed, in a western society —
Sorry; I am pro-choice. I want to make that very clear. It annoys me — [Interruption.] Do not distract me. I would like the courtesy that you listen to me, please.
I am not pro-abortion; I am pro-choice. I believe that women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies. It is not for men in the House to tell women what to do. You talk about the west. You talk about democracy. Is it democracy to force a woman to carry on with a pregnancy when she has been raped, or when a pregnancy results from an abusive sexual attack or incest? [Interruption.]
Order. Let us not have comments from a sedentary position, which a number of Members have been making for quite a while. We all know that, when it comes to Bills travelling through the House, there is no time limit on contributions. Members who want to make a contribution must put their name on the speaking list. Let us not have contributions from a sedentary position. I warn all Members. Members know fine well — the Member may smile. I will deal with you, Mr Clarke, if I need to. You have continually made contributions from a sedentary position. You should stop doing that. Have some respect for this institution. Let us move on.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
You repeatedly talk about democracy. Why, then, would you not let the amendment go out to public consultation? You talk about sneaking abortion laws in through the back door. Without public consultation, you could very easily be criticised for trying to sneak the amendment in through the back door.
In a moment.
Where is the choice for the child in the womb? Where is the choice for that woman child or boy child in the womb? What choice do they have? Let us not go round a deceit of saying things like —
I think, Mr Dickson, that what we are referring to is protecting the unborn child. That is the critical issue that is of most importance. In Northern Ireland, in cases of rape, incest and sexual abuse, two clinicians who are medically trained— I am not medically qualified — professionally qualified, properly regulated and of the genuine opinion that the physical life of a mother is at risk — or the mental health of a mother, which encompasses the area of rape, sexual abuse and incest — make a decision. Let us not introduce a canard of rape or incest to mask your leadership of the Alliance Party across the abortion issue and your pro-choice view. Your pro-choice view does not allow any choice for the unborn child.
There is no doubt that, in Northern Ireland today, women would be best supported, best protected and would have the best healthcare in our National Health Service. That argument is unassailable. So, the question that you have to ask yourself is why —
In a moment. Let me deal first with the point that Mrs Lo raised.
Why do you choose not to allow that best protection of women and that best care of children? Why did you choose, in those circumstances, to abuse a petition of concern to bring it across?
I thank the Member for giving way. It is hard to know where to start, I had a number of points throughout his speech. He has shown that his figure of 90,000 people is baseless. He refused to answer my question on that. Equally, he claimed that this is the cross-community will of the people of Northern Ireland. I ask him, therefore, would he be willing for this issue to go to a referendum? I could say that it is the cross-community will of the people of Northern Ireland that the amendment be rejected, but, if I were to say that, my argument would be as baseless as his. Polls suggest that Northern Ireland is divided on this matter, and for anyone to claim that they represent the majority of the people in Northern Ireland is without —
Order. I must say to the Member that interventions should not be speeches. They should be short contributions and to the point of the Member who has the Floor. The Member has graciously given up the Floor. I will allow the Member to continue, provided he is short.
I will be brief on this point, Mr Speaker. The Member has just said that the best care for women is provided on the NHS. Given that, every year, hundreds of women in Northern Ireland access the abortion pill online, does he agree that if we were to liberalise the law in Northern Ireland, those women could get that care on the NHS, and that would be the best place for them, and they would have that choice?
I do not think that we want our women to be placed in any dangerous situation. I do not think that we ever want our women to be served by an unregulated situation. You asked me what the evidence that I bring before you is. Well, Mr McGlone brought the evidence of 250,000 of our citizens — men and women — in Northern Ireland, on a cross-community basis. The leaders of our Roman Catholic Church, our Presbyterian Church and our Church of Ireland have all spoken out on the matter, as have many other Churches. The issue of the 90,000 has been well explained in the media and other places. I think that we are right to have protected those 90,000 lives.
Let me conclude where I started. The amendment brought forward by Mr Givan, Mr Maginness and Mr Elliott was a sincere attempt — a well-argued and coherent view — to allow women and children to be placed at the front and centre of our support and the protection of this House. They argued their case well. The argument that the support for our women and children should be provided by the National Health Service is unassailable, I believe, in terms of the best care, particularly as we have listened to some very worrying cases of women in other circumstances. Whatever complication arises, women can get, in the National Health Service, the very best support.
That was the actual purpose of it; to protect women and children. But, today, women and children will not be allowed to be protected because Sinn Féin has subtly — or not so subtly, in many people's view — moved to a pro-abortion position. The Greens have always been pro-abortion, and the Alliance Party, apparently led by Mrs Lo, if I take her view as representative of the Alliance Party, is pro-choice. Because of that situation, the Alliance Party has allowed Sinn Féin and the Greens to pervert what should have been the democratic decision of this House and have allowed unborn children not to receive the protection that they deserve, and they have committed a gross disservice not only to democracy but to women and children in Northern Ireland.
The debate stood suspended.
The sitting was suspended at 12.45 pm.
On resuming (Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair) —