Following the announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that he has formerly commissioned abortion services, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), has described his decision as ‘not only deeply regrettable, but deplorable’, saying that ‘Mr Heaton-Harris has chosen to give life to the most destructive and liberal abortion regime in these islands’. The Church also expressed its astonishment at the lack of consistency on the part of the Secretary of State in choosing to take action in this particular area while leaving Permanent Secretaries to take unaccountable political decisions in most other areas.
Speaking following the latest development, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church said, “Today, hard-pressed doctors and nurses begin a new week caring for people across a desperately under-funded and pressurised NHS in Northern Ireland, a week that also sees the dawn of fully commissioned and funded abortion services, following Friday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
“The fact that Mr Heaton-Harris has chosen to give life to the most destructive liberal abortion regime in these islands is not only deeply regrettable, but deplorable. It is a sad and distressing day for everyone who values the sanctity of life, and is devastating for those who will not live to experience it,” Mr Gribben said.
“There are many challenges facing Northern Ireland and its Health Service in particular, including lengthy waiting lists, staff recruitment and retention, and other services that are under resourced. It is particularly curious to note that no interventions appear to be forthcoming in these areas – no ‘ring-fencing’ of resources for the real priorities of those who work in and are served by our NHS.
“Given the pressures on education, within the police service, infrastructure projects, and with the energy support payment still not available to people in Northern Ireland, it is not only astonishing, but also deeply disappointing, that the Secretary of State has taken this decision while seemingly unable to take others around the prioritisation of budgets, passing what is a political responsibility instead on to Permanent Secretaries.”
Mr Gribben continued, “We recognise that women, their partners and families, do not take decisions about terminating a pregnancy lightly. We note therefore that the Secretary of State has not ring-fenced resources to actually support women and their families experiencing a pregnancy crisis situation, or care for mothers carrying children who have been diagnosed with life-limiting conditions, or for women experiencing mental ill-health during pregnancy or after giving birth. Neither has thought been given to support the provision of comprehensive perinatal care services that involve practical, emotional and spiritual support for women.
“Whether the Secretary of State was obliged to take this action now is debatable and a matter of interpretation. We should not forget that 79% of people responding to the UK Government’s 2019 abortion proposals opposed the introduction of these measures,” Mr Gribben remarked.
“Not only have these developments been an abuse of the fragile devolution settlement, but their genesis came about by a shameful manipulation of the democratic processes of the House of Commons in 2019, facilitated by the then Speaker. It is worth noting that in the recent debates on the latest Northern Ireland Executive Formation etc Bill, amendments relating to this matter were correctly rejected by the current Speaker of the House of Commons, a notable departure from the actions of his predecessor.”
Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “There are many staff across the health and social care sector who will not want to participate in the abortion process for reasons of conscience – Christian staff, those of other faiths and none. There appears to be little guidance, or instruction in this regard. Perhaps the Secretary of State has not had time in his busy schedule to address these particular and very real concerns.
“Many people today will be rightly angry that the Secretary of State has prioritised the commissioning of abortion services in the midst of an economic crisis. The result will be the creation of a ‘new normal’ in Northern Ireland, with the implementation of the most extreme abortion regime across these islands. As a Church with a strong pro-life position we want to make clear that this is not only an affront to democracy, but also to the sacredness of life.
“Finally, it is ironic that these services have been commissioned by the Secretary of State in the run up to Christmas – a time when we remember that a baby was born who went on to change the world in ways that continue to unfold. It is devastating to think that, as a result of this announcement, there are many other babies who will never have an opportunity to realise their full potential. It is not too late for Mr Heaton-Harris to do another U-turn.”
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