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Lords debates Northern Ireland abortion regulations

16 June 2020

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Members of the Lords discussed the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 on Monday 15 June.

This statutory instrument (SI) creates provisions for regulating abortions in Northern Ireland and sets out the circumstances in which an abortion may take place.

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Conservative), put forward the debate and responded on behalf of the government.

Motions to decline

Two members proposed motions to decline the regulations.

Baroness O'Loan (Crossbench), proposed a motion to decline on the grounds that the regulations:

  • have been rejected by the Northern Ireland Assembly
  • are legally flawed by being in breach of section 6 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998
  • do not prohibit abortion on the grounds of non-fatal disability
  • perpetuate stereotypes towards persons with disabilities, including Down's syndrome
  • do not prohibit abortion on the grounds of sex selection during the first twelve weeks of gestation, as is the case in Great Britain
  • perpetuate negative stereotypes and prejudices towards women.

Following the debate on the floor on the House, Baroness O'Loan's motion was put to a division (vote). 112 members were in favour, with 388 against, and so the motion to decline was not agreed to.

Lord Shinkwin (Conservative), also proposed a motion to decline on the grounds that the regulations:

  • promote the stereotype that those with non-fatal disabilities are less worthy of protection by law than those who are not disabled
  • do not comply with the recommendation in paragraph 85 of the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women's report:

    'Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women', published on 21 March 2018,

    in particular that legal grounds for abortion should be expanded “without perpetuating stereotypes towards persons with disabilities”
  • are counter to the decision of the House of Lords on 17 July 2019 in amending the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill to implement the recommendations of paragraph 85 of that report.

Following the vote on Baroness O'Loan's motion to decline, Lord Shinkwin's motion was withdrawn without debate.

Motion to approve

A final vote took place on the original motion to approve the SI. 355 members were in favour, with 77 against, and so the regulations were approved.

How do these draft instruments become law?

These regulations are presented as a Statutory Instrument (SI). An Act of Parliament will often contain a broad framework and statutory instruments are used to provide the necessary detail that would be too complex to include in the Act itself. They are also easier to change than an Act – for example to upgrade a rate of payment each year or amend the necessary forms in the light of experience.

This instrument is subject to the affirmative procedure, which means it must be agreed by both Houses of Parliament before it can be made law. A vote can be taken on them if the House wishes but is not essential. 

Further information

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