Abortion and Devolution

Heather Wilson, a Christian on the Left from Northern Ireland, discusses abortion legislation in the context of devolution.

Last week the UK Government, alongside the devolved Scottish and Welsh assemblies passed legislation that would allow women traveling from Northern Ireland for terminations to receive them freely under the NHS. Presently, Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK that generally speaking does not permit abortions, except under circumstances where the woman’s life is at risk.


Our legislation gives rise to the opinion in some quarters that Northern Ireland has never left the Victorian ages. Whilst the change will inevitably increase the number of women traveling to other regions for terminations it has likely added to the pro-choice momentum that may well end in the 1967 Act being extended to Northern Ireland, particularly as the Act ‘celebrates’ its 50th anniversary this year.

Politically this amendment has cast a question mark over the power of the devolved institutions to exercise their own respective mandates. Even if every inch of your fibre believes that women should have final autonomy over their own bodies regardless to the child that they carry, it seems undeniable that this motion which was able to pass with little to no debate within the House of Commons or without constructive conversations with any Northern Irish stakeholder is a blow for the powers of devolved institutions.

The social implications of abortions on demand are vast; the first and obvious one being the prevention of life. The most prevalent case and point that comes to mind is that of the Charlie Gard case, whose parents recently lost the court case to have their son who has a rare disability receive treatment in the US, but instead it was concluded that Charlie's life support will be turned off. As opposed to focusing on the detail of this sensitive case itself, it seems fair to highlight that the outrage, both domestically and internationally, against the decision shows that life, regardless of whether we have full wellness or not, is still very much valued and worth fighting for.

As someone who believes in life from the point of conception to the point of natural death, this legislation has been a hard pill to swallow; not because I cannot sympathise with the situations of women who find themselves in dire situations in relation to their pregnancies, but rather I believe that before bodily autonomy or financial hardship, the right to life does and should trump all else. It is a worldwide value that forms the base of the majority of our laws, it is the reason why we move to defend those who cannot defend themselves, why we decide to give to charity, why we find ourselves in moved to tears watching Children in Need and it is why many of us are alive today, because somebody somewhere saw the value in life regardless to the financial or social context surrounding conception.

Just as Jesus, in the midst of Roman rule, foreign greek customs and constant scepticism, nonetheless carried out his ministry even though it went against the political grind; no judicial review or fast-track amendment enabled him to battle against those things which he felt so very deeply about. But it never stopped him. When society saw the leper as worthless and a burden, Christ saw life and laid his hands on it so it could be lived in fullness.

by Heather Wilson

The issue of abortion and crisis pregnancy more generally has been back in the news in the last few weeks. In the midst of the inflammatory language and virtue signalling from both sides of the debate it is sometimes difficult to have an adult conversation about the issue. This means for many of us, our understanding of such a complex subject is fairly superficial. Christians on the Left is curating the thoughts of some of our members and referencing some hopefully helpful background reading:

Whose Justice? by Heather Staff

Pro-Life for All of Life? by Rachel Burgin

Abortion and Devolution by Heather Wilson

The BMA and Decriminalisation of Abortion by Dr Rachael Pickering

Some detail from the medical profession: Reflections on the BMA Vote by Dr Peter Saunders [external link to Christian Medical Fellowship]

A theological article about the presumptions of both pro-life and pro-choice positions: Abortion and Our Attitude to the Foetus by Lee Gatiss [external link to The Theologian]

Here are also three articles from 2016 on the subject, following Professor Cathy Warwick and the Royal College of Midwives decision to back a decriminalisation campaign.

Surely We Can Agree on Some Things? by Jennie Pollock

Abortion is not Social Justice: A Northern Irish Perspective by Heather Wilson

We Must Speak Up for the Voiceless by Sunny Mandich



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