Abortion votes still in flux with three days to go

Update. The Observer thought this subject right for an editorial, rather than the Executive deadlock.
It’s testimony to the strain of infantilism in NI politics that bishops are now echoing the politicians’ bleat that the “political process” could be damaged if Westminster voted to legalise abortion in the province this week. Not that Westminster will do any such thing. If local parties across the divide are united against abortion, how can it affect the future of the Assembly? Only if they commit suicide which they also loudly oppose. So hopeless is this level of debate that I almost wish they’d get on and do it. Meanwhile the Cabinet even in the middle of a financial crisis still hasn’t decided how to handle Wednesday’s votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and its hot button abortion amendments. Their indecision isn’t out of tenderness for Northern Ireland but to appease Scottish Catholic Labour MPs a fortnight before the crucial Glenrothes by election. Given that the NI amendment was fated never to succeed, I can readily agree with a point made by an abortion opponent:

“A report due out today from academics chaired by Professor David Jones, a bio-ethicist and leading advocate of restricting abortions, calls for ‘further reflective and comprehensive review’ of the issues surrounding abortion. ‘It is not acceptable for matters of such moral and social importance to be decided by amendments tagged on to a government bill without adequate opportunity for reflection and public engagement.’

Until local politicians face up to the facts and learn about abortion and other ethical and social issues as they affect others, politics will never reach even adolescence, never mind maturity.
For instance:

“In 2007 alone, it estimates, around 1,400 women fled, paying up to £2,500 each for clinic and travel costs.”

“I’d been sick for ages, my blood pressure was through the roof and I was worried that something was seriously wrong,” she says. “The last thing I expected was to be told I was 12 weeks pregnant. I was still having periods.”

As a single mother on benefits, suffering with depression and chronic health problems, Smith realised she could not cope with being pregnant. After a few “very difficult days” she decided to have an abortion. “I just knew it was the right thing to do. I had to think of my two children. What use am I to them even more sick, or dead?”

These political attitudes are less an exercise of conscience, more an abdication of responsibility.

By the way it’s not the case that the devolution of justice and policing means the transfer of all social and ethical law making powers to the Assembly. And it remains absurd for any unionist to argue against the abortion amendment on NI on constitutional grounds. Better though, if MLAs could live up to their responsibilities.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London