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25 October 2012

Abortion, Adoption and Anti-Slavery

Abortion, Adoption and Anti-Slavery

18 October was a big news day in Northern Ireland. It marked the opening of a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, a controversial court ruling on adoption law and international anti-slavery day. Here’s a really brief glimpse of what we’re doing and some of the questions the Alliance has been asking on your behalf….

Abortion

The question of abortion in Northern Ireland was re-ignited by the opening of a Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast last week. Alongside hundreds of protestors, the Attorney General fueled the fire of debate by offering his services to the Justice Committee to consider the legality of the clinic and procedures being offered. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland. However there are very limited grounds for a medical defence when the mother’s life is in danger. We recognise that this is a highly sensitive subject with little shared space in the public debate. We seek the wellbeing of both the woman and unborn child as image-bearers of God. The Alliance sits on the all party pro-life group at Stormont and has asked for clarity around the regulation of abortions carried out in private clinics and the status of Department of Health guidelines.

On 18 October, Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland asked Marie Stopes on Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme if they would be lobbying for a change in abortion law in Northern Ireland. We and the listening public were assured that they would not be lobbying for a change in the law. However, this seems to be in conflict with comments on their website namely that Marie Stopes is: “calling for the Act (1967 Abortion Act) to enshrine a woman’s right to choose and self-determination, allowing abortion on request and to be extended to women in Northern Ireland.”[1] We are asking for urgent clarification of these two conflicting public statements.

Adoption

By changing two letters abortion becomes adoption and the narrative shifts from death to new life. Adoption in Northern Ireland is currently only allowed by a married couple or a single person. The Human Right’s Commission brought a case of a lesbian woman seeking to adopt her partner’s child. The decision in this case potentially means that unmarried couples and those in civil partnerships will now be able to adopt. However the Health Minister has vowed to appeal the decision.

Firstly we welcome this public focus on adoption. We take God’s word seriously when it commands us to care for orphans. In fact we have been involved in a series of events with Care for the Family across the UK seeking to improve the Church’s support of those adopting and fostering.

This case was reportedly brought based on the rights of the child by seeking to widen the pool of prospective adopters. There may be equality issues here concerning adults but in relation to the rights of the child, evidence shows that the best place to raise children is within marriage[2]. We are asking why the law should be changed to place already-vulnerable children permanently into an unmarried relationship which is six times more likely to fail than a marriage?

Earlier this year we asked each Health Trust in Northern Ireland to provide us with figures for the number of married couples and individuals cleared for adoption or in this process. We were advised by each Trust that no figures were kept. It’s clear that we need better planning and processing. How can the Human Right’s Commission claim the pool of adopters needs widened when we don’t know the size of the pool?

The average length of the adoption process here is three and a half years compared to around two years in England and Wales. Again this is an issue of planning and process and we are calling for the Department of Health to consider increased investment in children’s social services.

Anti-slavery day

The Alliance sits on the all party anti-trafficking group and recognises all the good work carried out by NGOs, awareness-raising groups, PSNI and Government to combat human trafficking and exploitation in Northern Ireland. We along with others have been calling for a way to join the dots between all of these groups. On 18 October, anti-slavery day, this call was acknowledged by the Department of Justice when they announced the establishment of a multi-agency engagement group. This is a great result and could lead the way in the UK and Ireland in terms of sharing information, resources and best practice.

The consultation for Lord Morrow’s private member’s bill also closed on anti-slavery day. In our response we have called for further public debate on the issue of tackling the demand for sex trafficking and prostitution in our society.

We in no way wish to conflate these complicated issues but each one goes right to heart of our humanity, our freedom and how we treat the most vulnerable.It’s also important to reflect upon how we articulate well our Christian worldview on each of these matters. Space is limited in this short article to do justice to any of the above but hopefully it has at least provoked some thought. Perhaps you agree with us or maybe you strongly disagree? What do you want to see happen on these issues in Northern Ireland? What are you doing about it? Why not let us know.

[1] Marie Stopes’ recommendations are available here.
[2] Breakthrough Britain (London: Social Justice Policy Group, July 2007) available here, and our summary of the findings here.