“One of the grounds on which a bill may be found to be outside the competence of the Assembly is if it is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights,” the attorney general’s office said.
The bill was passed at its final stage on March 24, but the legal question means delays before it can take effect.
Pro-life groups were critical of Members of the Legislative Assembly who had backed the bill.
“Former MLA Claire Bailey was very keen to fast-track her bill and ensure that there was as little scrutiny as possible,” Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, said May 13. “It is no wonder that it has been stalled by the attorney general. Hopefully the Supreme Court in the U.K. will judge that Stormont did not have the legislative competence to omit a defense of ‘reasonable excuse’. This draconian legislation will be marginally less bad if it retains this defense.”
Right to Life UK said the bill effectively criminalizes offers of assistance and prayer within 150 meters, about 492 feet, of abortion clinics and hospitals. It characterized the “safe access zones” as “censorship zones” instead.
Several critics and backers of the bill, including bill sponsor former Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, had backed adding “reasonable excuse” as a possible defense for those accused of breaking the law. However, Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party voted against such an addition.
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