Church leaders in Northern Ireland have encouraged their political parties to quickly re-establish their self-governing institutions to stop the British government from imposing a liberal abortion law on the province.
Leaders of the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and other Protestant Churches said in a statement that they were also organising a weekend of prayer from 12th to 13th October amid an effort to halt the threat of abortion.
The UK Parliament voted in July to make abortion on demand legal in the province within 28 weeks of pregnancy unless legislative powers that were devolved – passed down from Westminster to the Northern Ireland assembly in Stormont – were restored by 21st October. Power sharing at Stormont, which originated from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, collapsed in 2017, and there have been few signs that it will be restored.
Speaking of the abortion law, the Church leaders said: ‘There is no evidence that these changes reflect the will of the people affected by them, as they were not consulted. They go far beyond the ‘hard cases’ some have been talking about.’
They said they were encouraging all of their members, congregations and parishes to join the prayer weekend ‘with many others throughout Northern Ireland, and further afield, praying both for the protection of the unborn in our society and also for women facing difficult and challenging pregnancies, along with their families.
‘We recognise that time is short, but that if our devolved institutions are re–established before 21st October, this Westminster–based legislation will not be imposed on Northern Ireland,’ they continued.
‘Our Northern Ireland political parties have it in their own hands to do something about this. They all need to take risks and make the compromises necessary to find an accommodation that will restore the devolved institutions,’ they said.
The leaders said they would ask Julian Smith, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to recall the assembly before 21st October ‘to provide an opportunity for the parties to take the necessary steps both to prevent these laws coming onto effect and to find a better Northern Ireland solution for these challenging issues’.
They also said they hoped to meet with Smith to express their concerns.
The statement was signed by the Catholic Primate of All-Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin; the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke; William Henry, moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; the Rev. Sam McGuffin, president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the Rev. Brian Anderson, president of the Irish Council of Churches.
Politicians in Westminster amended the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to introduce abortion and same-sex marriage in the province unless self-government was restored within three months.
The Stormont assembly also rejected abortion when it had the opportunity to vote for its introduction in 2016. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK – and one of the few places within Europe – where doctors can be prosecuted for providing abortions.
Picture: The Church leaders: From left, Rev Sam McGuffin, Most Rev Eamon Martin, Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke and Rev Brian Anderson. (Presbyterian Church in Ireland/PA).