Saturday, December 10, 2016

Scottish bishop ‘disappointed’ by decision that could give Northern Irish women access to abortion

A Catholic Scottish bishop has expressed disappointment after the First Minister announced plans to explore giving Northern Irish women free abortions on the NHS in Scotland.

The move would undermine “the democratic will of the Northern Irish people and the decision of the Northern Ireland Assembly”, said the bishop of Paisley, John Keenan, writing on his Facebook page.

“If the Irish choose to respect life who are we to say we know better!”, he added.

Last week, during a visit to Dublin, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that Holyrood would hold talks with Scottish health professions about the possibility of Northern Irish women accessing abortions within NHS Scotland.  

The issue was raised in parliament earlier in the week by Greens leader Patrick Harvie who asked Sturgeon what could be done about the “unacceptable financial barriers” facing women in the UK region.

Jim Wells, a senior member of the Democratic Unionist Party, which currently governs Northern Ireland, told the Scottish Catholic Observer that Sturgeon’s comments were “extremely unhelpful, unwarranted and she’d be better off dealing with her own issues”.

Access to abortion in Northern Ireland is limited to cases where the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. An estimated 2,000 women a year travel for private terminations, mostly to England where abortion is legal.

There is currently a new abortion bill being proposed which had its first reading in the Northern Ireland Assembly last Tuesday. The change to the law advocates for an abortion to be carried out if the condition of the foetus is "likely to result in its death, even before or during birth" or if the baby is born alive and "there is no medical treatments which could be offered to alter the fatal nature of the condition or improve the chances of surviving". 

The change in law also proposes that medical practitioners who disagree with abortion can conscientiously object. 

Bishop Keenan said his comments were not meant to be interpreted as a “judgement on the character of our First Minister”, but rather an expression of “disappointment at the response she gave”.

“Procured abortion is always wrong and a terrible thing”, he said, “and as the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act approaches why not all of us, politicians included, be thinking, not of more access to it, but of being engaged in a concerted effort to find alternatives to it.”

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