On 22nd November 2022, the House of Lords debated the Public Order Bill in the second day of the committee stage. The Bishop of Manchester spoke regarding two sets of amendments: firstly, in support of amendments to Clause 9, pertaining to access issues around abortion providers, and secondly in opposition to clauses remaining in the bill which would grant excessive police powers, particularly regarding the right to protest.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I rise to address Amendments 85 to 88, 90 and 92, to which my right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans has added his name. He regrets that he is unable to be in his place today. I also have sympathy with a number of other amendments in this group.
It is a heated and emotive debate on this clause, and it was heated and emotive when it was added in the other place. The danger is that we get dragged into debates about whether abortion is morally right or wrong. Indeed, I have had plenty of emails over the past few days, as I am sure other noble Lords have, tending in that direction. As it happens, I take the view that the present law on abortion strikes a reasonable balance; in particular, it respects the consciences of women faced, sometimes with very little support, with making deeply difficult decisions.
On 21st June 2022 the House of Lords debated the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022, alongside a motion from Baroness O’Loan ‘that this House regrets that the Regulations (1) disregard the statutory role of the Northern Ireland Assembly and ignore the devolution settlement, and (2) make substantial constitutional changes via secondary legislation’. The Bishop of Blackburn spoke and voted in favour of Baroness O’Loan’s motion. At the end of the debate the Regulations were approved by the House and the motion was rejected by 28 to 181 votes.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I am conscious that it is not commonplace for Prelates to comment on matters that extend to Northern Ireland only. However, what made me reluctant to speak on this matter is the same driving force that has brought me to speak—the fact that this was, and should be again, a devolved matter. My desire and aim today is not to speak around the rights and wrongs of the matter but to state my discomfort that this debate is happening in this place at all.
On 16th March 2022, the House of Lords debated the Health and Care Bill 2022. The Bishop of Durham spoke in opposition to an opposition to an amendment tabled by Baroness Sugg that wouldmaintain the option of at-home early medical abortion that had initially been permitted due to the COVID-19 Pandemic:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for her tireless work on gender equality and areas of international development. We have often been collaborators on such matters. I also apologise to the noble Baroness if she has personally received any hurtful comments on this; some of the things I have seen were shameful. She should not have been abused in this way. Nevertheless, I will oppose her amendment; I hope she understands that this in no way lessens the way in which I honour her for her work.
I declare at the outset that the Church of England’s position on abortion is principled opposition, with a recognition that there are strictly limited conditions under which it may be preferable to any available alternative. My opposition to the amendment is based on that in part but also because I believe that the amendment is functionally inadequate in providing the necessary protections. This was a temporary measure introduced during the pandemic to allow continued access to abortion services, simply to meet a need in extraordinary circumstances. I support the Government’s decision to return to the pre-pandemic system for early medical abortions from August, which was supported by many in the public consultation response.
On 15th June the House of Lords debated the Government’s “Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020”. The Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, spoke in support of an amendment to negative the Regulations, highlighting its effects on abortion on grounds of disability. In two subsequent votes, he and other bishops voted against, but the House of Lords passed the Regulations without amendment by large majorities.
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and will focus on the proposal in Regulation 7 that abortion for disabilities including Down’s syndrome should be available during the first 12 weeks without question or counselling and then potentially through to birth.
On 26th January 2018 Baroness O’Loan introduced her private member’s bill, the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL], for its Second Reading debate in the House of Lords. The Bishop of Peterborough, Rt Revd Donald Allister, spoke in support of it:
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, yesterday, the River Restaurant downstairs helped us to celebrate Burns Night all day. I thoroughly enjoyed the Scotch broth at lunchtime, but I resisted the main course as I was eating out in the evening. I even resisted the whisky bread-and-butter pudding. The main course which I resisted was vegetarian haggis, celebrating Robert Burns in a way that respected the consciences of those who do not want to eat meat. That is a very proper and good thing to do. There is no legal requirement to provide vegetarian haggis, but it was welcome to many and I think that I would have enjoyed it. Continue reading “Bishop of Peterborough supports Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill”
Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, appeared on BBC2’s Newsnight programme on 7th September 2017, discussing faith and politics alongside Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee. The interview was preceded by a clip of an appearance by Jacob-Rees Mogg MP on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, where he had been asked about the influence of his Roman Catholicism on his position on abortion and other matters. A transcript of the interview is below:
On 27th January 2017 Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill was considered in Committee in the House of Lords. An amendment from Baroness Massey of Darwen, requiring the Secretary of State to review “the impact of this Act on disabled children, their families and carers, and the provision of support services” was debated and accepted. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, supported the amendment and the overall purpose of the Bill:
“Not only children but adolescents and adults with Down’s syndrome live valued and valuable lives, contributing greatly to the welfare of those around them. All of this is undermined by the continued existence on our statute book of a law that, in effect, states that Down’s syndrome is a ground for abortion.” – Bishop of Bristol, 21/10/16
On the 21st October 2016 Conservative Peer Lord Shinkwin led a debate on the Second Reading of his Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill. The Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Mike Hill, spoke in support of the Bill.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, for introducing this Bill. I understand that its focus is the principle of disability equality, not some underhand attempt to limit women’s access to abortion services. Noble Lords will, of course, have a variety of opinions on the ethics of abortion, but that is not, in principle, the focus of the Bill. It needs to be said that, in general, historically and indeed today, churches and other faith groups have always maintained a cautious approach to how the rights of women and the rights of the unborn child can somehow be maintained without, we hope, falling in to those who reside at the extremes of arguments around ethics on both sides of this debate. Continue reading “Bishop of Bristol supports Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill”