Unity on one thing only – to oppose abortion

We have Jeffrey Donaldson to thank for inspiring the Sun’s rubbishy news story on the embryology research Bill which passed the Commons last night.

“Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson conjured up the spectre of a monster from Greek legend, saying: “The image that people find most abhorrent is of scientists producing GM babies or cloned adults or minotaurs.”

This takes us back to the “hobgoblins and foul fiends” of John Bunyan in the seventeenth century, the ideal period for many of our elected representatives.
Aye thon Bunyan was right! With unconscious irony Jeffrey then gravely told MPs that abortion was such a sensitive matter in Northern Ireland that it would be better left to the Assembly!
From Hansard:

“I know that hon. Members will have received a letter from the leaders of the four main parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The letter was written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who is my party leader, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), the leader of Sinn Fein, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, and Sir Reg Empey, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party. Between them, those four parties represent more than 90 per cent. of…. ” etc.etc.etc.

The electorate in Northern Ireland, and have more than 100 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That makes it clear that this sensitive matter should be dealt with by the Assembly and not by this Parliament.”

What an impressive show of unity. When is is going to be applied to something useful? This day will be remembered as the one when the elected representatives of Northern Ireland could unite only on one thing – to oppose abortion.

It’s now reported, though from the “pro-life” side that “a view has emerged on all side of the debate that a dedicated abortion bill would be the appropriate means of changing the law in such a controversial area.” This is now possible but not, I guess until after the general election , so “ the “pro-life” campaigners will doubtless be delighted.

The way ahead probably lies in legal challenges which are likely to compel the NI Assembly eventually to pass a law prescribing the circumstances in which abortion may take place, however limited, monitoring what happens and at the very least, offering specific help to approved abortion cases to have them in GB. Almost certainly “guidelines” as drafted are not enough to satisfy Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights on the rights of the women concerned. By the way, where is the final version of the guidelines?

Meanwhile on the main subject of embryo research it was fear, fear all the way and no sense of opportunity for the medical breakthroughs stem cell research can achieve. Mark Durkan was still worried about human cloning, the primitive minotaur fixation.

“Is it wrong for the House to ensure that in superseding those provisions we ensure that there is no room for genetically modified children to be created? That is entirely reasonable. We are told that that is not the intention and that nobody wants to do it, so what is wrong with ensuring that such an action is clearly provided against in the Bill? “

Personally I would be all for “genetically modified children ” without cystic fibrosis, leukemia etc.

The best that can come out of this sorry parliamentary saga is that exposure to the complex issues of fast changing genetic research may have encouraged our MPs to think more deeply about them and consider the thousands who need help as well as hug their own opinions.

Meanwhile women voters of Northern Ireland, remember this day!

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