Fighting to the Last for the Unborn Child in Northern Ireland

U.K. peer wants to stop abortion from being forced upon her people: ‘The feeling in Northern Ireland is very strong: Abortion is wrong.’

Baroness Nuala O’Loan of Kirkinriola
Baroness Nuala O’Loan of Kirkinriola (photo: Courtesy of the subject)

“The endgame is the decriminalization of abortion throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.”

The woman who said these words is a Catholic politician behind a last-ditch attempt to prevent abortion from being forced upon the people of Northern Ireland (NI).

Baroness Nuala O’Loan of Kirkinriola was speaking to the Register Sept. 9. She was sitting in one of Houses of Parliament’s many tearooms overlooking the River Thames, flowing that day with a calm majesty as the sun glinted upon its waters.

But the eyes of the baroness were elsewhere.

O’Loan was busily scanning the various screens situated on the tearoom walls that alert parliamentarians to what stage debates are at in the various chambers of Westminster. Awaiting the signal to leave, due at any minute, she was due to take part in a last-minute debate on the proposed NI abortion legislation. 

The new NI legislation is set to become law on Oct. 21. It will permit abortions up to a qualified limit of 28 weeks, but, in effect, as O’Loan points out, there will be “no limits.” This means that in a matter of weeks, if the legislation is not stopped, NI will move from being one of the last pro-life bulwarks in Europe to having one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world — and having occurred without any real public consultation.

“It’s worse than the 1967 Abortion Act,” said O’Loan, referring to the act of Parliament that originally legalized abortion in Great Britain but which crucially did not extend to NI. She sees this latest move in London as a strategy adopted by pro-abortion U.K. parliamentarians to further liberalize abortion provision not just in NI but across the U.K. In short, the “endgame” is abortion with no restrictions in any part of the kingdom.


Time Ticking for the Unborn

O’Loan looks tired. She has been working nonstop to prevent this new NI legislation from becoming law. No one is more acutely aware than O’Loan that time is running out, however. “We’ve got 30 days to stop this legislation,” she said.

On her return from the States, and before arriving back in London, O’Loan took part in a pro-life rally against the proposed new law on Sept 7. Around 20,000 people marched in silent protest to the seat of the NI Assembly at Stormont on the outskirts of Belfast. Referring to the NI’s long-standing, and at times murderous sectarian divide, O’Loan is quick to point out that those taking part in this latest pro-life rally came from all political and religious backgrounds. The pro-life cause is one of the few that unites NI’s Protestants and Catholics. Speaking with a quiet but firm resolve, she said, “The feeling in Northern Ireland is very strong: Abortion is wrong.”

The ingenuity of the pro-abortionist lobby at Westminster and the speed with which they acted caught many unawares. O’Loan explains that normally the passage of a bill through Parliament takes at least 32 days, but even that would be unusual. The latest NI bill with the abortion amendment took only four days to pass from amendment to law. “The act was passed like a rollercoaster,” said O’Loan, “passed without deviation or hesitation.”

It is not just the subject matter or even the haste with which this legislation was rammed through Parliament that concerns O’Loan, who is a lawyer by profession. The law is poorly drafted, she says, with “the consequences of this ill-thought-through bill not being assessed for the impact or risk. There are many things we do not know about what the new law will look like after March 31, 2020 [when it takes effect].”


Flawed Abortion Legislation

O’Loan’s concerns include: in what circumstances abortion will be allowed and what, if any, will be the time limits; whether there will be any restrictions on access to abortion; whether there will be provision allowing abortion up to birth if the baby has a disability, or for other reasons, as happens currently in Great Britain; what arrangements will be made as to who — or what organizations — can carry out abortions; whether there will be a right to conscientious objection for medical practitioners and pharmacists and in what circumstances such a right may be exercised.

“The bill was passed to introduce abortion,” said O’Loan, “but with a total uncertainty as to what the law will be.”   

The new act has also effectively repealed existing criminal sanctions around abortion currently in place in NI.

“If an abortion is carried out in these new circumstances, there will be no investigation and no criminal prosecution,” said O’Loan. In addition, she points to a whole host of other uncertainties not provided for by the hastily passed act.

For example, there would currently be no legal mechanism to check whether a woman or girl has been forced to have an abortion. There would be no legal requirement, as currently in England and Wales, for two doctors to certify in good faith that an abortion is medically necessary for the mother. Also, incredibly, it would be possible to have an abortion anywhere in NI — not just in a hospital — thus making it possible for private abortion facilities to operate without regulation.

There would be no legal safeguards protecting and enabling medical practitioners to exercise any conscientious objection to involvement in abortions. Yet it would be possible to give out abortion pills in schools without the consent of parents, despite the dangers of such medication. 

For O’Loan this is an ill-thought-through and undemocratic piece of legislation, ushering in an abortion regime “similar to those countries with the most draconian abortion legislation in the world.”  

She feels that the Westminster Parliament, on this occasion, has treated “the law with contempt,” raising serious concerns among opponents not just about the human rights of the unborn but also the process of making laws, especially in regard to NI. This is especially significant given the region’s sad and bloody history.

“If we want to build a new society in NI, it has to be built on the rule of law — not in an intemperate, unplanned and illogical way,” she said.

Subsequently, O’Loan and others in Parliament attempted to press for an amendment to the act requiring the U.K. government to consult with NI Assembly members and seek their consent as the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland before implementing this new law. This was rejected outright by the U.K. government.


The Baroness of Human Rights

English-born O’Loan read law at King’s College, London, becoming a solicitor in 1973. Starting in 1977, she lectured in law, and, in 1992, she went on to hold the Jean Monnet Chair in European Law at the University of Ulster.

In 1999, in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which brought a cessation of violence to NI, O’Loan was appointed the region’s first police ombudsman. Part of her concern at the latest legislation is based upon the fact that NI’s recent past and the GFA devolution settlement that followed have been disregarded in this fresh piece of parliamentary maneuvring on the subject of abortion.

Too many have forgotten just how hard-fought that peace settlement was, she feels, before adding, “The peace process is frail; nothing should be done to destabilize it.”

O’Loan has a painful personal experience of this sad legacy. While working as a law lecturer in 1977, a terrorist bombing took place at the university campus where she worked. O’Loan survived; but she was pregnant at the time and subsequently lost her unborn baby.

Stepping down from her police-accountability role in 2007, O’Loan was elevated to the House of Lords two years later. Sitting as an independent peer, Baroness O’Loan sees her present role in Parliament as focusing on issues pertaining to human rights, justice and security, especially in relation to NI.

O’Loan is married with five sons. Together with her Catholic faith, being a mother is, she says, the principal influence on her pro-life work. She has observed over the years that the pro-abortion campaign has been built upon lies. She is clear that “the biggest lie” of all is pretending there is no human life in the womb when an abortion takes place.

“In the abortion debate we have forgotten about the baby,” she says, “There is no ‘human right’ to abortion; the whole pro-abortion campaign is underpinned by lies.” 


The Debate Continues?

O’Loan starts to scan the screens on the wall again. She is mentally preparing for the yet another debate in the chamber. She is realistic, however, about the challenge she and other NI pro-lifers face. The only sure way the legislation can be stopped is if the NI Assembly resumes sitting.

It is currently suspended due to political differences between Sinn Fein (largely supported by Catholics) and the Democratic Unionists (traditionally supported by Protestants). This suspension is unlikely to be ended, though, due largely to the fact that Sinn Fein wants abortion to be introduced into NI.

“There is no reason why Sinn Fein would go back into the Assembly soon; they just have to sit and wait,” said O’Loan. “The British government and Parliament have delivered a key demand to Sinn Fein. My concern is that key demand involves the intentional taking of the life of babies not yet born,” she said, before adding, “What a terrible basis on which to build a new Northern Ireland government.”   

For the last time she scans the screens. Her time has come to go once more onto the floor of Parliament to speak out for the unborn babies.

As she gets up to leave, O’Loan has one message for NI’s elected representatives: “This legal change doesn’t have to happen. If the Assembly gets back up and running, then they — local politicians — can decide what to do about abortion.” She pauses and then adds, “But if the Assembly members decide not to come back, then on their heads be it.” 


                                                                             Register correspondent K.V. Turley writes from London. This story was updated after posting.