Abortions for NI Women in Wales

In January-February this year the Welsh government set up a consultation on the issue of funding abortions in Wales for women resident in NI. Of the 802 responses to that consultation, only 14 were in support, and not a single one of those came from any NI woman. On the contrary, the majority were against the proposal. That means that 98.254% of respondents opposed the proposal for the Welsh Government to fund abortions for women travelling from Northern Ireland while only 1.746% were in favour. As a result of the consultation the Welsh government decided to ignore the majority of the responses and press ahead with abortion provision for women normally resident in NI. Their reason for rejecting the 98.254% was that they all came from the pro-life sector such that the objections were the same, thus they treated the opposition en masse.

Aside from the fact that the government should not have been surprised that pro-life responses would in fact be uniformly pro-life, the government ought not to dismiss the individuality of those who did engage with the consultation. Indeed, what is the point of such a consultation if the government intends on doing what it wants in spite of majority opposition?

As an indication that all the pro-life responses should not be treated en masse, but that individuals took time and care to construct reasonable opposition to the proposal, we here publish a submission made by Mary Lewis BL to the consultation. Hers is just one of a number of such submissions which the Welsh government has chosen to ignore. This submission was made in early 2018, and so some of the details pertaining to the SDLP’s position on abortion have changed since then, nevertheless they were true at the time the submission was made.

Response to the consultation on funding abortions for non resident women from Northern Ireland

An unjustified interference

Abortion is not a devolved matter for the Welsh Assembly yet it is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly which has voted on the issue a mere two years ago[1] and rejected a liberalisation of our law on abortion. It is totally inappropriate for the Welsh Assembly to act in any way regarding abortion or any other internal Northern Irish matter.


The consultation document insists on using the euphemism “Termination of Pregnancy,” tritely abbreviated further to TOP, to lessen the reality of the horror of the process, otherwise known as abortion. It should not be forgotten that this procedure ends the life of the most vulnerable human beings – in certain cases up to full term, e.g. where the baby has a disability.[2]

Numbers of Northern Ireland Women who undergo a lawful abortion in Wales.

It is our understanding anecdotally that very few women from Northern Ireland actually avail of lawful abortion in Wales. The Welsh Government will be aware of precisely how low this figure is. This raises the question:  why does the Welsh Government consider it necessary to take action on this issue? How much did this consultation cost?  If there is virtually no demand by Northern Ireland women for abortion in Wales why should scarce  resources, which could be spent in other multiple ways, not be used  to fund the  health of Welsh citizens who are already suffering long waiting lists for essential medical treatment because of  existing NHS constraints.


The Abortion Act 1967 does not apply in Northern Ireland because the democratically elected Members of the Legislative Assembly have not voted in favour of its extension. Indeed the SDLP, which is a sister party of the Labour party has a mandate not to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.[3] Other political parties including the two with the largest mandate ie the DUP and Sinn Fein equally have stood for election on the basis of being against the extension of the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. The proposal to fund Northern Ireland women to have abortions in Wales brings the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland by the back door.

The Labour party does not operate in Northern Ireland and the Conservative party has an almost negligible level of support. It is arrogant in the extreme for either of these party groupings to presume or predetermine what is “best for Northern Ireland women” or citizens more generally.

Effect of the Abortion Act 1967

Since abortion was legalised in England and Wales just over 50 years ago,  there have been 8.8 million abortions – the equivalent of the entire population of  London. This translates to 1 in 5 pregnancies ending in abortion[4]  and an abortion every three minutes.[5] Abortion is no longer an exceptional response to a crisis, as is evidenced by the fact that 38% of lawful abortions in England and Wales last year were repeat abortions. [6] Surely there must be a better, kinder  way for women, babies and families in crisis than a default assumption that abortion solves the problem.

Appetite of Welsh taxpayers for this proposal

The residents and taxpayers of Wales have not been asked prior to this consultation whether they wish to have pre-existing stretched NHS resources redistributed to facilitate Northern Ireland women to have abortions in Wales. The public is constantly advised that the NHS is at breaking point, yet resources are to be found to pay for medical procedures for non-residents of Wales. The consultation document is unclear whether this funding will emanate from the Government Equalities Office (as in England) or whether the Welsh Government will have to find the funds from its own budget.


The proposals outlined in this consultation lack evidence of economic, equality, or any other justification and  I respectfully submit  that they should not be pursued further. I note that the Welsh Government proposes to review the position “six months after they come into force” which suggests that this consultation is a fait accompli. In any event, if the proposal is passed, there  will be many in Northern Ireland who will also closely monitor the situation through Freedom of Information channels and any other appropriate manner.



[2] S 1 (1) d  of the Abortion Act 1967 as amended by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990.

[3] A policy which has persisted since 1984.

[4] 190406 abortions were carried out in England and Wales in 2016 as reported in  Of these , 185 596 were on residents of England and Wales. There were 696271 live births in England and Wales in 2016 see

[5] As reported by Lord David Alton in a speech given at St Bride’s Hall, Belfast on January 25th 2018.

[6], p 6.


Human Rights and Human Dignity

We are accustomed these days to rights talk. Rights have a significant degree of authority behind them. The European Convention of Human Rights is a foundational document ratified by a number of European countries. The concept of rights contained therein appears to command the assent of a number of Western democracies. Not only that, when an appeal to some human right (or the violation of such a right) is made it is often capable of putting to rest most social and political discussions.

Nevertheless, there remains some confusion over the nature of human rights, and whilst public discussions may often appeal to rights and rights talk, such discussions are rarely ever principled or follow a logical train of thought. Not only that, significant public voices addressing the issue of rights in relation to abortion, including representatives of Amnesty international, have stated that one is only a subject of rights if such rights are afforded to the individual by some governing body. Hence, if, on their reading, the unborn are not afforded legal protection, then they are not subject to rights and human rights do not apply to them.

This confusion quickly clears up when we actually read the human rights documents, that is, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The UDHR is quite clear in linking the ‘equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’ with human dignity, and the ECHR follows the UDHR in listing those rights that pertain to all humans in virtue of their dignity.

It is human dignity that grounds rights, and human dignity is something that one possesses not in virtue of being a member of a privileged group, such as all those who have been born, or some positive law granting one legal entitlements; rather, human dignity is something one has in virtue of being human. This dignity flows from human nature, and it does so precisely because human nature is rational nature. Human beings are the kind of things that are rational, whether they exercise their rationality or not. Hence they are the kinds of things capable of determining their own ends (regardless of whether they do so or not), and as so capable they themselves must not be the instrument for anybody else’s end; for that would be to treat them as less than human. Hence every human being is to be treated in light of the dignity that they have; regardless of the legal recognition or otherwise of such dignity. Indeed, it is precisely because humans have such dignity independently of state recognition that one can criticise the state or its authorities for abuses of such dignity.

Rights primarily flow from dignity insofar as human beings must be treated in such a way that their dignity is not violated. This fundamentally entails not subjecting their lives to the will of others, in which case we have a right to life, a right not to be tortured, not to be enslaved or put into forced labour. Flowing from this freedom from being subject to the will of others humans have a right to liberty and security, a fair trial when accused, and a legal framework within which punitive measures are exercised. Being free from the will of others all humans have a right to a private and family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and the right to marry.

It is clear then that beginning from the principle of human dignity we draw out these various rights all of which revolve around dignity; failure to respect these rights is a failure to treat humans as fully human. Effectively what these rights ensure are the conditions by which we can live lives in accord with our human nature. In focusing human rights on human dignity, the drafters of the human rights documents did not envisage human rights as things conditional upon state or legal recognition. At the time these documents were drafted Europe had just emerged from a second war which saw some serious human rights abuses, and it is doubtless that having states sign up to these rights and ensure compliance therewith is a good thing. But compliance or otherwise with these human rights by a state does not entail that one is not subject to these rights. Hence, regardless of whether or not a state grants to humans or a certain class of humans, such as the unborn, these rights, those human beings nevertheless have these rights. Any sort of rights talk which classifies humans in one way or another and attributes rights to one class and not to another is absurd and contrary to the nature of human rights which all humans have in virtue of being human.

Dr Gaven Kerr


Clarity from the Supreme Court

On 10th October 2018 the Supreme Court, the highest UK court,  delivered its much anticipated judgement Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd [2018] UKSC 49.

The story has been well rehearsed – Ashers is a company owned by committed Christians, the McArthurs. Mr Lee was gay and worked for Queerspace. He was an existing customer of the bakery and in May 2014 wished to have the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” iced on a cake he ordered. This was refused and the charge of discrimination commenced, aided by the Equality Commission NI, which sought to test the legal boundaries of discrimination and confirm that Mr Lee had been discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation and/or  political opinion. Mr Lee succeeded in the County Court and NI Court of Appeal for reasons which were somewhat obscure to lawyer and layman alike.

The Supreme Court’s  judgement, however,  is a model of clarity. It held, regarding discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, that:

1. This was a case of “direct discrimination or nothing.”

2. Direct discrimination is by definition, treating people differently.

3. The correct comparator was other people, not different messages.

4. The circumstances of any comparison needed to be “the same or not materially different.”

5. Support for gay marriage was not a proxy for any particular sexual orientation, since anyone of any orientation could support it.

Lee v Ashers therefore differed from James v Eastleigh [1990] 2AC 751 – free swimming related to differing retirement age for men and women – and Preddy v Bull [2013] UKSC 73 (B&B accommodation only for heterosexual married couples). The complainants in these cases were adversely affected in law, because of a proxy for the protected characteristic.

6. There was no associative discrimination here – evidence of Ashers previously serving gay customers including Mr Lee himself and  employing gay staff, all put paid to that.

7. “In a nutshell, the objection was to the message and not to any particular person or persons.”

The Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that in this case, the cause of equality was done “…no favours to seek to extend it beyond its proper scope.”

The Supreme Court also examined discrimination on the grounds of political opinion. It accepted that

1. Support for gay marriage was a political opinion.

2. It pointed out that discrimination can arise irrespective of motive.

3. The legislation was designed to protect those who held an opinion from less favourable treatment, as compared with others who did not hold such an opinion.

4. It was clear that Ashers had previously served Mr Lee in other ways. Likewise they would have refused to ice the cake with this message, irrespective of the political opinion of the person asking for it. The Supreme Court took the view that it was not Mr Lee’s opinions or beliefs which resulted in the refusal of the order, rather:

“The objection was to being required to promote the message on the cake. The less favourable treatment was afforded to the message not the man.”

An interesting aspect of the judgement was how the Supreme Court dealt with the European Convention rights of the McArthur’s who owned Ashers, as opposed to the company itself. It concluded that in order to uphold the qualified ECHR rights of the McArthurs under Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 10 (freedom of expression), the company should not be found liable. This differed from saying that the company had Convention rights.

Rather, to ensure that the McArthurs were not obliged to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed or indeed be compelled to provide goods facilities or services expressing  a message with which they disagreed, unless justification was shown, the Convention rights could be invoked to protect the McArthurs, since to do otherwise would negate their Convention rights.


Significantly the Supreme Court was unanimous in reaching its decision. No dissenting voices confused the issue. Individuals are protected from compelled speech whether in icing, print, or orally. The groupthink mentality has been curtailed at least in the context of offering goods, facilities, and services.

Whether this is a victory for religious or political freedom has already been widely debated. However most commentators agree that the Supreme Court has stood up for freedom of expression, something which unites Baroness Hale, Peter Tatchell and no doubt, supporters of Iona (NI), on a significant area of social policy.

Shortly after she issued the judgement in Preddy v Bull, Baroness Hale gave a lecture at Yale Law School on Religion and Sexual Orientation: the clash of equality rights. She examined the case law on the subject and dealt with criticisms from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Attorney General of Northern  Ireland on how  equality law had developed, particularly as it appeared increasingly to sideline religious belief or indeed fail to understand or show sensitivity to it.

Baroness Hale defended the role of the courts by explaining that the Law Commission had dismissed calls to legislate against offending religious feelings. However, she noted in examining Canadian case-law, that provision had been made there for a “reasonable accommodation” defence in dealing with conflicts of rights. She also acknowledged that some Christians did feel a lack of respect for their beliefs and queried whether a more nuanced view would be better.

She concluded:

“I find it hard to believe that the hard line EU law approach to direct discrimination can be sustainable in the long run. But I am not sure how comfortable I would be with the sort of balancing exercise required by the Canadian approach.”

Perhaps in Lee v Ashers we can see the arrival of some much-needed nuance into the conflict between competing rights through the mechanism of freedom of expression.

Although the Ashers have been vindicated in this matter, there will undoubtedly be many more conflicts to come where rights will clash. Freedom of conscience in medical matters such as abortion and euthanasia is one which might benefit in part by this decision but I very much doubt if it will be the last word on conscientious objection.



Canonisations of Bl Oscar Romero and Bl Paul VI

On Sunday 14th October Bl Oscar Romero and Bl Paul VI will be canonised in the Catholic Church. What this means is that whilst they are already considered blessed and thus subject to local veneration, they will now be venerated throughout the Church. Both of these saints were remarkable men in the 20th Century, and both showed heroic virtue in their own ways.

Pope Paul VI’s heroism is noted chiefly by his publication of Humanae Vitae which reiterated and re-affirmed the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception and human sexuality. Humanae Vitae was not well received in many quarters, and despite immense pressure, Pope Paul VI held out and defended the truth. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the encyclical and it is timely for us to reflect on it. The Iona Institute NI delivered a set of lectures earlier this year on Humanae Vitae and they can be found on our YouTube page here.

Oscar Romero exhibited his heroism in another, more traditional manner.

Romero was the archbishop of El Salvador and was critical of the violence and oppression of the time. He spoke out on behalf of the poor and sought to uphold the human rights of his flock. He was shot while celebrating Mass March 24, 1980 and he was beatified by Pope Francis May 23, 2015.

Bl Romero is often considered a socialist saint and a radical because of his advocacy for the poor at the time and his opposition to government forces of the right. This is an unfortunate designation as the Church does not work within the confines of left and right; rather the Church is focussed on the human person and the dignity of the person. Should that dignity be undermined by repressive capitalist regimes, the Church speaks out; should it be undermined by repressive socialist regimes, the Church likewise speaks out. Having the good of all human beings in her heart, the Church advocates for the rights and dignity of the individual and does not swing in favour of one group identity or the other. This at times will entail opposing the establishment at the time, as Pope Leo XIII writes in Quod Apostolici Muneris, the encyclical on socialism, n. 7: ‘…[I]f the will of legislators and princes shall have sanctioned or commanded anything repugnant to the divine or natural law, the dignity and duty of the Christian name, as well as the judgement of the Apostle, urge that “God is to be obeyed rather than man”’. This was Bl Romero’s heroism, having the will of God in his heart and the good of every human person as his motivation he expressed outrage at the treatment of the poor and downtrodden for which he died a martyr. He was a martyr of neither the left nor the right, but for the truth about the dignity of the human person which is at the heart of all Christian social engagement.

Both of these saints are a witness to us to stand firm in defence of the truth, and to resist pressures whether they be to our reputation to our life.

Dr Gaven Kerr

Press Releases

Press Release on Ashers Judgement

Today’s landmark supreme court case is a win for everyone

The Iona Institute NI welcomes the unanimous decision by the UK supreme court which today ruled that the McArthur family did not discriminate against a gay rights activist in politely refusing to ice a cake with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’.

According to Tracy Harkin, spokesperon for the Iona Institute NI, “This case pursued  by the equality commission which cost N.Ireland taxpayers £360,000, was  deliberately framed  as an LGBT rights issue”.

“As the judgement today  clearly  highlighted however, the  McArthurs’ objection was not to Mr Lee himself, but to being required to write a political slogan”.

“The McArthurs have maintained all along that they did not refuse to serve Mr Lee because he was gay or because he supported gay marriage.Their objection was to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed”.

“The rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion are the hallmark of any genuinely  pluralist and democratic society.No one should ever be forced to express a political opinion they disagree with”.

“We hope this incredibly important ruling will not only send a clear message regarding the misuse of equality law but importantly help to protect against the spectre of compelled speech in N.I. and throughout the UK”.


For further info contact

Tracy Harkin

Office: 028 92 646861

Mobile: 07531149891