Pro life protesters outsider the Belfast High court, as Northern Ireland abortion laws were being challenged. Belfast, UK. Oct. 3, 2019 | meandering images/Shutterstock
A pro-life group accused Northern Ireland’s human rights commissioner on Wednesday of using “weasel words” in support of an abortion buffer zone bill.
Precious Life called on Dec. 8 for Alyson Kilpatrick, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, to resign after her comments to the health committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Kilpatrick told the committee on Dec. 7 that the commission supported the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill, which would make it a criminal offence for pro-lifers to engage in “influencing” women inside “safe access zones” around premises offering abortions.
She argued that the private members’ bill “doesn’t prevent anyone from protesting about anything and it certainly doesn’t prevent anyone from protesting or complaining about their opposition to abortion,” according to the Belfast Telegraph.
The bill, introduced by Green Party leader Clare Bailey, passed its second reading on Oct. 12 by 58 votes to 29.
Precious Life, a pro-life group founded in Northern Ireland in 1997, said that the bill would infringe the rights to free assembly and free expression.
It said: “Alyson Kilpatrick’s weasel words were intentionally ambiguous and misleading. She told the Stormont health committee that abortion zones won’t prevent anyone from protesting elsewhere.”
“Only pro-life people outside an abortion centre will be targeted as criminals and fined up to £2,500 [around $3,300]. But Alyson Kilpatrick claims this is an ‘appropriate balance.’”
The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 allow 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 abnormality.
Previously, abortion was legally permitted in the region 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.
Catholic bishops decried the regulations, approved by the British Parliament in London, as “an unjust law” imposed “without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Following its committee stage, the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill must pass several more stages before becoming law.
Speaking after the bill passed its second reading, Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said: “It was only last year that abortion was forced onto the people of Northern Ireland against their will. Now, it might be illegal to even object to this change outside an abortion clinic, regardless of how peacefully these objections are made known.”
She added: “Preventing people from offering assistance to those seeking an abortion is a gross form of state overreach, and a direct attack on the freedom to express the view that unborn babies and their mothers have a right to life.”