News Roundup

NI Secretary ‘failed to comply with duties’ by not commissioning abortion regime

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis failed to comply with his duties by not expeditiously making abortion widely available to women in the North, a High Court judge has ruled.

However, Mr Justice Colton declined to make any order compelling Mr Lewis to set out a timetable for the provision of the procedure.

He was delivering a ruling after the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission took a judicial review against the Secretary of State, as well as the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department of Health over their failure to commission and fund an extensive abortion regime.

The claims against the Department of Health and Executive were dismissed.

But relating to Mr Lewis, the judge said: “The court declares that between April 2020 and March 2021 the Secretary of State failed to comply with his duties under Section 9 of the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act 2019 in that he failed to ensure expeditiously that the State provide women with access to high-quality abortion and post-abortion care in all public facilities in Northern Ireland.

“The court declines to make any order of mandamus [a judicial writ issued as a command] against the Secretary of State.”


Curbs on pro-life vigils backed by North’s MLAs

A majority of Stormont MLAs have backed proposals for exclusion zones banning pro-life protests or vigils outside facilities where abortions take place in Northern Ireland.

The Assembly voted yesterday, by 58 votes to 29, to allow the bill to complete its first key legislative hurdle.

If the legislation becomes law it would be the first of its kind anywhere in Europe. Similar proposals exist in the Republic.

Green Party Northern Ireland leader Clare Bailey is behind the move and claims it will protect staff and women accessing services.

Laws allowing for the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland took effect last March, after they were drawn up by Westminster.

Following a public consultation, the government decided not to include powers to establish exclusion zones but said it would keep the matter “under review”.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley described the bill as “regressive”.

“Neither I nor my party support abuse or harassment,” he said, adding that he was concerned that “anything from a conversation to a leaflet” would be deemed criminal under the legislation.


US Archbishop urges Biden to act like the ‘devout Catholic’ he says he is

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ pro-life chairman is expressing disappointment with President Biden as his Administration reverses a Trump-era rule that restricted funding over abortion.

“It’s really sad,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who heads the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, told EWTN News Nightly. The Biden administration, he added, is “in the control of abortion extremists.”

The archbishop reacted to the administration’s reversal of the “Protect Life Rule,” which barred tax dollars from Title X recipients that provide or promote abortion and required Title X clinics to be physically separate from abortion clinics. A federal program, Title X subsidizes family planning services, including contraceptives, for low-income communities.

The archbishop challenged President Biden – the second Catholic president in U.S. history – to defend and cherish human life.

“He likes to call himself a devout Catholic. I would urge him to begin to act like one, especially on the life issues,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann said. “And to let his faith really inform his conscience and the decisions that he’s making, not the platform of his party.”


Christian campaigners lobby Pakistani Prime Minister to end forced marriage

Christian human rights campaigners are calling on the Pakistani government to do more to protect girls at risk of coerced conversion and forced marriage.

ADF International says around a thousand girls from religious minorities are converted to Islam against their will every year. It also believes the practice is growing in Afghanistan and across South Asia.

The organisation is urging people to sign an open letter to the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan  calling for better protection from the authorities and an increase in the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18.

Director of ADF India, Tehmina Arora says an estimated 1,000 girls every year are abducted, kidnapped, and forced into marriage and then forcibly converted. “These are reports that have come out repeatedly from various human rights groups in Pakistan and that’s a really frightening statistic. The number of minor girls who are married off in Pakistan is among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations data. But the number of minor girls who belong to religious minorities are particularly vulnerable, because along with the kidnapping comes this forced conversion.

“Some of the girls that we’ve met because of the long process of working with our allies on the ground are as young as 12 , 14 and 15 years old, really young girls.”


European Court of Human Rights to hear Covid-19 worship ban challenges

The European Court of Human Rights will hear legal challenges against governments that completely banning public worship in the name of protecting public health.

A case is due to come before the court regarding bans which were imposed in Greece and Croatia during 2020. Ireland had the longest ban on public worship in the whole of Europe, although no case is being taken in respect of Ireland.

Robert Clarke, Deputy Director (Advocacy) for ADF International says freedom of religion and belief is a human right that must be afforded the highest protection.

“This right is protected in European law, yet throughout the pandemic, we saw multiple governments across Europe impose disproportionate bans on opening places of worship. There is no reason why authorities could not find solutions that protect both public health and communal worship. For people of faith, worshipping together can be as important as receiving food and water. We hope that the European Court will uphold the rights of all people to live out their faith, as has been seen in Scotland, Switzerland and elsewhere,” he said.

A challenge taken by Declan Ganley against the ban here is currently pending before the courts in Ireland. Leaving one’s home to attend a worship service could have incurred a potential penalty of a fine, or up to six months in prison.


Doctors and staff refusing to do abortions in multiple Italian hospitals

Partial data from a new study shows that in at least 15 Italian hospitals it’s not possible to have an abortion because all gynaecologists, anaesthetists and non-medical staff are conscientious objectors.

The 1978 law legalising the procedure in Italy allows doctors to conscientiously object. It also states that hospitals are required to ensure the possibility for a woman to have an abortion on their grounds in any case – meaning that the objection can concern individual doctors, but it can’t be applied to entire structures.

The data is being collected by professor Chiara Lalli and journalist Sonia Montegiove, who are mapping out the actual state-of-play of access to abortion in Italy.

According to the law, the regions must monitor the situation in order to guarantee the implementation of a so-called right to abortion, and the government publishes data on the state of abortion rights every year. The latest data shows that 67% of all gynaecologists, 43.5% of anaesthetists and 37.6% of non-medical personnel in the country are conscientious objectors, with wide regional variations.

According to the researchers, though, the currently available datasets are unreliable and ultimately useless. “We are asking for open, disaggregated data”, Lalli said. “Aggregating it by region does not provide a clear picture. We want data on every single structure, ideally every six months”.


Militants destroy pro-life stand at Oxford University freshers’ fair

Oxford University has condemned the destruction of a pro-life stand at a freshers’ fair last week.

A group of students threw the contents of the Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) stall into a bin bag, before being confronted by security guards patrolling the fair.

When Irish Times columnist and Iona Institute patron, Breda O’Brien, tried to give a pro-life talk at St John’s College, Oxford, four years ago, pro-choice protestors disrupted it. Around the same time, the pro-life head of the Students’ Union at UCD, Katie Ascough, was driven from her position.

The militants this time refused to leave until they were assured that the stall would not be reinstated, and threatened to tear it down if it was put back up.

Photos of the event show the protesters tussling with members of the pro-life society, the Oxford Student reported.

OSFL has described itself as a “non-sectarian, student-run society” that seeks to promote a culture of life at the university and in the wider community, advocating the protection of human life and dignity from conception to natural death”.

Oxford University has condemned the protesters’ actions, saying the academic institution has a strong history of free speech.

The protests came after an anti-abortion society at Exeter University was forced to call the police when members received death threats from students.

Texas ‘heartbeat’ abortion law reinstated by Appeals Court

A US federal court on Friday evening issued a ruling allowing a Texas state law, which restricts abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, to take effect again amid an ongoing court fight.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling, reversing an October 6 decision by a lower court. At least six Texas abortion clinics had resumed performing abortions after the October 6 ruling, the New York Times reported, drawing strong criticism from pro-life groups.

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a foetal heartbeat can be detected—around six weeks gestation— except in medical emergencies.

The law, which first took effect last month, allows for awards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits against those who perform or “aid and abet” illegal abortions; women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law.


Court blocks Texas pro-life law

A court has temporarily blocked a new pro-life law in Texas that bans abortion after the 6th week of pregnancy other than in exceptional cases.

The District Court blocked the law following a request from the Biden Administration. The legislation is to be considered by the US Supreme Court which had previously refused to block the law pending a closer examination of the legal issues at stake.


Northern Ireland ‘not obliged’ to introduce liberal abortion law

The Stormont Assembly is not required to introduce the liberal abortion law the House of Commons voted in favour of last year with the intention of overriding Northern Ireland’s current restrictive regime.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, has said the region must introduce the law, but the Society for the Protection for Unborn Children (SPUC) is legally challenging the law before the High Court. The case began yesterday.

Acting for SPUC, Northern Ireland’s former attorney general John Larkin QC told the High Court today that there is an “absence of any duty on any person to comply with the directions”.