The appointment of Edwin Poots as Northern Ireland’s new health minister is drawing positive reviews from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), a leading pro-life group in Northern Ireland and throughout the British Isles.
Liam Gibson, SPUC’s Northern Ireland development officer, commented: “SPUC will be praying for success for Mr Poots as Northern Ireland’s first pro-life health minister as he faces enormous challenges. SPUC will be naturally be taking a keen interest in how he intends to resolve the ongoing problems surrounding the health department’s guidance on abortion.”
In 2007, Poots supported a motion rejecting the original draft of the department’s guidance as flawed and which called upon the then minister ‘to abandon any attempt to make abortion more widely available in Northern Ireland.'”
In an intervention during an Assembly debate on 22 October 2007, Mr Poots made his views on abortion very clear: “I speak as someone who has a close family member with a disability. Will the Member agree that those who support abortion on the basis of a child being born with a deformity are devaluing that child before it is born?
Poots added, “Will he also agree that — given that almost seven million children have been aborted since the 1967 Act was passed and that almost two million have been terminated since the House last debated the issue — future generations will look back on this period in the way that we look back on the period when children were used to clean chimneys and people were kept as slaves?”
Gibson continued: “Twice in recent years SPUC has successfully taken legal action against Mr Poots’ predecessor in order to remove guidance that threatened the rights of women, unborn children and medical personnel.
“The health department’s relationship with the pro-abortion Family Planning Association (FPA) urgently needs to be re-examined. The issue of public funding for FPA especially needs be looked at. Mr Poots is likely to face significant opposition from within his own department, as a number of senior civil servants are not sympathetic to pro-life concerns. However, if Mr Poots does bring forward pro-life measures, he will have the support both of most assembly-members and the people of Northern Ireland”, concluded Mr Gibson.
The health minister position is important given the decision by the NI health department to re-issue controversial guidance on abortion last year. Although the Northern Ireland health department lost a previous court case after pro-life groups challenged its abortion rules, the department released them again in February 2010.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) chose to re-release the abortion guidelines after the High Court ordered the health department late last year to withdraw them.
In its new case, SPUC argued that the publication of the guidance in its current form was perverse, and contravened that November 30 court order for the document’s withdrawal.
Following the success of SPUC’s previous judicial review, the department sought permission to withdraw only the sections of the guidance dealing with counseling and the rights of medical staff to non-participation in abortion. Those sections were heavily criticized by Lord Justice Girvan in the November decision. He ruled that the issues in the guidance were inter-related, that the guidance must therefore be withdrawn in its entirety and reconsidered.
Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of Great Britain, does not allow abortions and makes them available only when the life of the mother is at risk.
The health department reported in December 2009 that legal abortions carried out in Northern Ireland averaged almost two per week last year. Official figures released in response to an assembly question asked by SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey revealed that 92 women had abortions in 2008. Some 79 women underwent an abortion in Northern Ireland the previous year. In May 2009, a Department of Health report revealed that 1,173 women had traveled to England to have an abortion last year, in comparison to 1,343 for 2007.