Justice Minister Ford’s consultation was launched in October 2014 and closed in January 2015. It asked whether the current laws on abortion in NI should be changed to allow for abortion in the cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sexual crime?
Interestingly, the word ‘lethal’ was only added to the wording of the consultation at the very last minute. Many felt this was to generate emotive responses, as if these babies are somehow a danger to our society.
A press release from the Department of Justice claims there is ‘a substantial body of support’ for the changes. Many reading the minister’s choice of words smelt a rat straight away! If there is such massive support for his proposed changes, then it is reasonable to expect that the Minister would have used the word ‘majority’, which he didn’t. Why not? Well, because the overwhelming majority of responses actually opposed any change to the law.
The vast majority of the 25,320 responses, made up of formal responses, letters and petitions were against changing the law. Just 0.7% of responses were in favour.
The breakdown was as follows:
712 individual formal responses: 579 against changes; 133 in favour
65 organisation responses: 18 against; 47 in favour
TOTAL Responses: 777
Total Against 579+18=597
Total For 133+47=180
Proportion in favour-23%
921 letters against changes
23,622 signatures on petitions against
Total submissions (formal submissions, letters & petitions) 25,320
Total submissions Against: 25,140
Total submissions for: 180
Proportion against change: 99.3%
Proportion in Favour: 0.7%
Whatever way one examines these figures, there is only one true and glaringly obvious conclusion that can be drawn: that the overwhelming majority of responses are opposed to any change in the abortion legislation in NI.
With a total of over 25,000 responses, this consultation is one of the largest in Northern Ireland and this in a time of widespread voter apathy. For the NI Executive to ignore this would be frankly extraordinary and the whole consultation would look like a sham, an example of ‘gesture politics’.
This was a public consultation and now the public feels completely duped and quite frankly, angered, by the dishonest spin that the Minister has put on the results! Minister
Ford has been quite disingenuous with regards to his own consultation process!
He said, ‘After full and careful consideration of the evidence submitted, I have concluded that to change the law along the lines outlined in the consultation paper is the right thing to do.’
Some, however, wonder whether the minister has a problem with basic arithmetic, to come to such a conclusion. Either that or he has a problem with basic honesty!
In defence of his justification, his spokesperson said that the 47 interested groups which favoured change represented a ‘broad swathe of interested opinion’ and included medical bodies and organisations.
Of significant note, the minister chose not to include the response from the Christian Medical Fellowship in the section with all the other medical responses. One has to ask,
‘Why?’ and is forced to conclude that he wanted to bury the CMF medical evidence further down in the report, well away from the rest of the medical organisations, with which it is at odds.
It was more convenient for the minister to present the response findings in this very biased manner! In doing so, he has also implied that the medical evidence of CMF, an organisation representing 4,000 doctors from all specialities and 800 medical students in UK and Ireland, does not carry any weight at all!!
How insulting and downright arrogant of the minister!
Interestingly too, having said that he weighted medical organisation responses more than other responses, the minister conveniently chose to ignore what the BMA NI said in its response. The BMA NI which represents 75% of doctors in NI stated that any change to abortion legislation in NI should be left to the public and NI politicians and not the medical profession.
The 99.3% of respondents opposed to any changes in abortion legislation in NI feel very angry at how the minister has deliberately chosen to ignore their responses which were against his proposed changes.
This was advertised as a public consultation and yet the minister has swept aside that public opinion as meaningless.
It now seems, from the minister’s behaviour, that he had no intention of listening to any other opinion, unless it agreed with him and his proposals.
There are many in NI who feel very aggrieved at the whole process and are not prepared to accept that the changes will be a foregone conclusion. The minister has to bring proposed legislative changes to the NI Executive, which will have to approve such, before they then pass to the Assembly for a vote. The fight isn’t over!
Posted by Roselle Birnie
CMF member in NI