NI: Stormont passes symbolic motion on stricter abortion laws

NI: Stormont passes symbolic motion on stricter abortion laws

Northern Ireland’s new abortion regime is too extensive because it covers “non-fatal disabilities”, MLAs resolved yesterday after Stormont’s first debate on the matter since the law was changed.

Under The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020, introduced by Westminster, there is no time limit on abortion in the case of “severe foetal impairment or fatal foetal abnormality”.

Four DUP MLAs yesterday brought forward a motion rejecting “the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome”, which was passed by 46-40 with support from SDLP and UUP MLAs.

Sinn Féin opposed the motion but tried and failed to pass an amendment which modified the language to reject “the specific legislative provision in the abortion legislation which goes beyond fatal foetal abnormalities to include non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome”.

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheenan said: “Clearly, there is a mood out in society that is demanding changes to abortion law, and that same mood exists within Sinn Féin. That is not to say that we support the introduction of the British Abortion Act 1967 here in the North; we do not.

“Our position is clear and consistent. Sinn Féin supports the introduction of termination of pregnancy only in very clearly defined circumstances. Abortion should be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk; in cases of fatal foetal abnormality; and in cases where pregnancy has occurred as a result of rape, incest or sexual abuse.

“We do not support abortion on grounds of non-fatal foetal abnormality. Our party policy on that issue is absolutely crystal clear. That is what our party members voted for, and it has nothing to do with populism or opportunism.”

Pro-life campaigners criticised both versions of the motion. Alliance for Choice said either wording is “not based on the best, most recent medical evidence and does not meet the human rights standards as recommended by CEDAW in their 2018 report”.

Speaking after the vote, Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said: “This motion has no impact on the abortion law or regulations in Northern Ireland.

“Although this sends a disappointing message that some MLAs are not willing to stand fully for human rights, women and girls should rest assured that the hard-won abortion reform remains intact.

“The focus now must be on commissioning local abortion services so that women aren’t left without this vital healthcare. It’s been seven months since decriminalisation and two months since regulations came into effect. Any further delay in giving effect to our new laws is now simply unacceptable. The Department of Health must urgently commission services to ensure these are accessible to all who need them.”

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