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Andrew Tettenborn: Strasbourg seeks to subvert Belfast over abortion

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What’s not to like about autonomy, democracy and power-sharing? Quite a lot if you’re an abortion activist. On Wednesday an abortion cause célèbre (previously touched on in TCW) reached the Supreme Court. Essentially the point was this. In England the Abortion Act 1967 is construed as permitting termination, if not on demand, and the “operation” comes free on the NHS. In more conservative Northern Ireland the Abortion Act does not apply, abortion is allowed only in cases of extreme risk to life and health, and for obvious reasons the NHS will not generally perform it.

The figures bear this out: in Northern Ireland the annual total of abortions (at least officially) is less than 20, while in England it is over 200,000 and rising. There has never been anything illegal in girls from Northern Ireland coming to England for abortions, but they have to go private: NHS England declines to give them here for free what they can’t have at all at home. A fifteen-year-old Northern Irish girl who found herself in this situation said that all this infringed her human right to family life (!) in a discriminatory way. Two out of five Supreme Court justices, including (not surprisingly) Lady Hale, agreed. But a bare majority of three did not, holding that while the right to family life and non-discrimination was in issue, the Health Secretary was entitled to refuse to take steps which would deliberately undermine the situation in Northern Ireland.

Thank heavens for small mercies, even if by a narrow squeak. But it’s not over yet. The vultures are circling. The BBC ran a piece with most time, and the first and last word, given to a demand to change the law in Northern Ireland now. Amnesty International, a once-principled organisation that used to be limited in its aims to freeing political prisoners in repressive regimes but is now a portmanteau for fashionable causes galore, piled in. So did Liberty and the Abortion Support Network. And, of course, it’s next stop Strasbourg. So we’ll have to watch this space next year.

What is unsettling for all these people is, of course, that the present Northern Ireland position which the Supreme Court refused to undermine is an impeccable product of the political process. The 1967 Act was not extended to Northern Ireland for the very good reason that public opinion was then against it. Although it is said that a majority of the people of Ulster would now favour something like the 1967 Act, the Assembly refused to make the change in February last year.

But minor matters like democratic politics, devolution and power-sharing don’t matter much to the people protesting at the decision, particularly if they come up with the wrong answers. Unlike the rest of us, they don’t like the idea that they should actually have to persuade electors and representatives to vote to run the country the way they want it run.

On the contrary, the background text is clear: ignorant and benighted people of Northern Ireland must be taken by the hand and brought up to date, if necessary forcibly by Westminster. That of course is why the European Court of Human Rights is next in line. If you want an excuse to subvert democracy and ignore public opinion, and be part of the handover of power to a self-perpetuating clique of broadly leftist sympathisers, isn’t that just what a trip to Strasbourg is for? I hear the food there’s rather good, too.

(Image: James Russell)

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Andrew Tettenbornhttps://www.conservativewoman.co.uk
Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as Ukip’s candidate in Bath.

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