New abortion proposals published…

The Department of Justice in N Ireland issued a call for members of the public to discuss whether abortion should be allowed here in cases of ‘lethal’ foetal abnormality or for pregnancy following rape or incest, as I indicated here. The DoJ indicated that they did not wish to open the debate around abortion beyond these limits.

The DoJ has now published the findings, and David Ford, the Minister, stated:

My department has just completed a consultation exercise on the very sensitive and emotive issue of the criminal law on abortion and I have today published, on the Department of Justice website, a summary of the responses.

This consultation has probably engaged the community more than any other in recent times. Much was written and said about the proposals, some of it inaccurate and some of it misleading. I have always tried to be clear that these proposals were for limited change in very specific circumstances.

The consultation asked for views on two specific areas where abortion might be considered: where there is a fatal fetal abnormality, and where pregnancy results from a sexual crime. I also sought views on the inclusion of a clause to allow for a right of conscientious objection.

The responses to the consultation came in a number of formats, from well-reasoned written arguments, either for or against change, to written and electronic petitions. In addition to members of the public engaging with us, a large number of organisations, representing a broad swathe of opinion, responded.

After full and careful consideration of the evidence submitted, I have concluded that to change the law along the lines outlined in the consultation paper is the right thing to do. In the limited circumstances of a fetal abnormality which is likely to cause death either before birth, during birth or in an initial period after birth, and where no treatment other than palliative care could be offered to improve the chances of survival, my view is that the health and wellbeing of the woman must take priority and that the law should be clear and offer certainty.

I therefore intend to proceed to ask the Executive for its approval to bring forward legislation to the Assembly which would allow for termination of pregnancy in these tragic cases.

I am also proposing to allow for the inclusion of a conscience clause in the legislation, but will not proceed with changes relating to pregnancy resulting from sexual crime.

I recognise this subject will continue to be of interest to many people and at all times I will make as much information as possible publicly available.

The full responses are available here.

That is, he accepts that abortion should be available for fatal (lethal) abnormality, but not for pregnancy following rape, and will seek to bring forth legislation to this effect.

One criticism of this public consultation was that he wasn’t paying attention to what the majority of respondents said; the DoJ’s response was that the many organisations who did respond positively were speaking on behalf of very many people (here).

There are indeed problems with public consultations. Sometimes the questions asked don’t allow for a proper, full discussion of views—you may remember the referendum on the voting system some years ago, when the choice was between first-past-the-post and the alternative-vote. I’m sure that neither appealed to many, and here in Ireland we are well used to STV; that simply wasn’t an option.

There’s another problem with public consultations. Focus groups are very ‘in’ these days, instant feedback on politicians’ performance, which can then be modified to suit the voters. Is this really an appropriate way for politicians to act? Policies made on the basis of soundbites and feedback?

Are our politicians leaders or followers? Do they attempt to mould public opinion or are they just in thrall to it? Are they reasonable or unreasonable people?

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

—George Bernard Shaw

  • Carl McClean Uup

    Thank you for this. George Bernard Shaw is an odd subject to quote for this subject, given that he has quite a lot to say on eugenics and abortion, eg

    “We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living, and to leave living a great many people whom we at present kill. We should have to get rid of all ideas about capital punishment…A part of eugenic politics would finally land us in an extensive use of the lethal chamber. A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other people’s time to look after them.”- Lecture to the Eugenics Education Society, Reported in The Daily Express, March 4, 1910.

    A tool!

  • Dan

    So, he hadn’t the courage to do the right thing and propose to legislate for both scenarios, and in true Alliance fashion, he took the easy way out.
    What a coward.

  • Korhomme

    The quotation is from ‘Man and Superman’.

    A century ago, eugenics was very popular among a lot of people that we would otherwise think of as progressive.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’d have thought that the experience, knowledge and evidence of healthcare professionals would have the greatest weighting here. In addition, I see nothing showing the experiences from other jurisdictions. APNI really needs to ask itself is giving the people of NI what some of them (the noisiest) say they want not hindering progress? If it says that it’s the party of inclusion and a shared future then it should be in the perfect position to be a lot bolder. Finding compromise solutions is great when it comes to tribal rivalries because it shows it can be achieved. But backing down to religious pressure groups and single issue zealots just makes them look like a soft touch. It needs to dawn on them what sort sort of fight they’re in.

  • Gopher

    Should be a referendum. UK abortion law or or not, have one for gay marriage and normalized Sundays at the same time

  • Catcher in the Rye

    It’s only in Northern Ireland where people who go out on a limb and take a considerable political risk get attacked for it.

    You may be disappointed that Ford hasn’t gone far enough. But the fact is that in pushing this legislation he’s gone further than any other MLA has been willing to.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Any MLA can put forward a private member’s bill and persuade the assembly to legislate on any matter.

    Please enlighten us by naming all of the non-cowards who have brought abortion legislation to the assembly floor.

  • Abucs

    We shouldn’t confuse progress with Progressive thinking.

    Shaw’s thinking traces back to Darwin’s ‘Ascent of Man’ where he claimed the negro was a link between white men and apes and how nature remains strong by ruthlessly culling the weaker aspects in contrast to the Christian civilisation that protects the vulnerable.

    The German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche took this ‘scientific’ idea up with his own ‘Superman’ philosophy that so sadly was acted on by his countryman, the socialist leader and self proclaimed Progressive Herr Hitler.

    It is a good thing that the modern Progressives (usually) distance themselves from such thinking, as they do with the Progressive Nazis on some of their policies. I just wish they would more honestly look into the terrible history of ‘Progressives’.

    Perhaps future Progressives will distance themselves from current Progressive thinking when they clearly see the injustice and danger it poses in society. Perhaps again they will try and claim that the people today aren’t really Progressives. Who knows?

    I do like and use Shaw’s quote though. Very clever. My version ends in the line ‘all hope lies with the unreasonable man’. The Progressive use of the word ‘progress’ spoils it for me.

  • Reader

    Abucs: Shaw’s thinking traces back to Darwin’s ‘Ascent of Man’ where he claimed the negro was a link between white men and apes…
    Darwin did no such thing. The logic of evolution is that we are *all* descended from apes through common ancestors, and that such divergence as there is only arose when our ancestors were already human. Darwin already understood that.
    As for the science behind eugenics, that was obvious to horse breeders, pigeon fanciers, pig breeders and wheat farmers long before Darwin was born.
    And the philosophy behind eugenics seems to be idiosyncratic – subject to personal inclination and the dictates of fashion. Utopians do seem to fall for it, though.
    As for Hitler, besides his crappy philosophies, his science was all wrong too. But what do you expect from an artist?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “From an Artist”, Reader, have you seen the fellows paintings? From what one of our part time tutors at “Pre-Dip” in Durham Street (that dates me!) used to call “Redouté rose paintings”, the product of “Picture making” intentions rather than genuine creative thinking.

    Just to show what I mean:

    But then there are some of us (especially in the wee six!) who do not seem to be able to tell what is real creativity in an artwork from what is chocolate box kitch, a cartagory I’d sincerey hope you are not trapped in! Hitler was many things, but artist he was not!

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Hands up who would be happy to be killed if it came to light that they weren’t wanted, or had a medical condition? Don’t see many hands out there……
    Why are some people constantly trying to find an angle to justify killing unborn children? Sickos.

  • Abucs

    Hello Reader,

    the science of the Nazis was pretty good when you look at some of their weaponry. It was a big mistake though to ‘lose’ all of their German Jewish scientists.

    Regarding Darwin. Sometimes what Darwin wrote and what is ‘modern Darwinian theory’ is not always compatible.

    From the Descent of Man

    quote ……”At some future point, not distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla…………..Charles Darwin.

    That’s not to beat up on Mr Darwin. I have quite a bit of respect for him, though some took up his views to a disastrous affect. I am sure Mr Darwin would not have approved of the holocaust. I have no reason to think he would anyway.

  • Reader

    Abucs – no. Your quote is of Darwin talking about our cousins; distant or otherwise – not our ancestors. Not a “link” as you put it. He was looking at the CE 1850 slice of life on our planet, not imagining that Black Africans were just ancestors of Europeans. Your quote is just a small part of his important argument about missing intermediates, which begins “The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies,
    which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species…”
    In fact – you also quoted part of the key to his example: “The break will then [‘future point, not distant’] be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope…”. I.e. he was also looking at the appearance of cultural change.

  • Reader

    You surely only mean that he wasn’t very good at art?
    Cities are full of “Creatives” who aren’t very creative; Artists who aren’t very artistic and Musicians who aren’t very musical. You don’t need to pass an exam to earn those labels.

  • Reader

    Abucs: the science of the Nazis was pretty good when you look at some of their weaponry. It was a big mistake though to ‘lose’ all of their German Jewish scientists.
    The science of the Germans was pretty good. As people always expected it would be.
    What the Nazis did to German science was to expel or kill some of their best scientists; interfere on the grounds of bad politics or worse philosophy; squabble in endless turf wars; indulge the weird theories of senior Nazis (e.g. Rugen expedition), and keep changing their minds: but also, quite importantly, throw vast resources including slave labour at any problem.

  • Korhomme

    Perhaps ‘progressives’ wasn’t the best choice of words. Something like ‘free-thinker’ or ‘out of the box thinker’ or even ‘tosser in of a bunch of bananas’ would have been better.

  • Abucs

    With respect i don’t think so Reader. I do cede the point that he could have been thinking of negroes as cousins but he clearly put them lower than Caucasians and higher than gorillias. Whether he believed they were direct descendants or ‘lower class’ offshoots he did expect them to be exterminated very shortly because they were inferior.

    He was talking about races and how as certain groups go extinct the gap between what is left looks much wider so that it seems insurmountable to be accounted for by natural selection.

    That is, that the negro and the gorilla are closer together than the Caucasian descendant and the baboon. He was making a defense of his theory by explaining that intermediary groups (or inferior offshoots) have been made extinct which gives the appearance of insurmountable difficulties to his theory which can be accounted for by extinction.

    Darwin was very good at classifying living types and giving explanations for their differences. He would not make the mistake of erroneously using culture to explain a scientific point regarding the separation of related living organisms.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As a (paid) professional in the field for over forty years, I’d be rather reluctant to allow the name “artist” to those you mention above, any more than I’d be comfortable with anyone who has simply taken a law or medical book out of their local library and fancied their hand at it posturing as professionals in those fields. Unlike what you say above, you do kind of need to take the time and care to develop serious skills in this field as in any other profession, to earn the “label” in my book. There’s a lot more to being an actual artist, especially if anyone is actually wanting to make a serious living from their skills, than just getting a feeling and “expressing” it. Adolf couldn’t for a start, and had to try his hand at politics, “failed and went to the Reichstag”, to re-configure Gielgud’s “bon mot” on Claude Rains (who “failed and went to Hollywood”). As that brilliant art professional John Hegarty says, everyone may be creative, but not everyone really needs to share it.