45,000-strong Northern Ireland abortion reform petition handed in at Stormont
A petition with more than 45,000 signatures calling for reform of the abortion law has been delivered to Stormont.
Presented by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, the Amnesty International petition calls for the decriminalisation of abortion and for terminations to be available in cases of rape, incest or severe and fatal foetal impairment.
Under the current law, women can only obtain an abortion here if their life or their health is in serious danger.
It comes just days after Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that she would explore the possibility that Northern Irish women could access abortions free of charge through NHS Scotland.
Speaking ahead of her appearance at the Assembly, Ms Bailey said: "Northern Ireland's abortion laws are in breach of minimum human rights standards; they have been found to be so by the courts. Everyone is well aware of this, and therefore it is a shameful indictment on the Assembly that I even have to bring this petition forward.
"More than 45,000 people have put their name to this petition. Over 70% of people in Northern Ireland want to see abortion laws changed. Despite this overwhelming endorsement of change, when the issue was then brought before the Assembly in February, just 59 MLAs blocked even the most minimal of reforms.
"People who stand in the way of change on this issue are out of line with public opinion, and they are out of line with human rights.
"I welcome Nicola Sturgeon's intervention, but also hope that her response is ultimately unnecessary, and that we can change the laws here so that women do not need to travel in order to access healthcare."
But Mark Baillie, policy officer for Christian lobby group CARE Northern Ireland, said he doubted the petition's legitimacy.
He said: "This petition is less than robust. Because the petition does not ask you for an address or postcode, it makes it possible for people to sign the petition more than once under a fake name and, more worryingly, there is no requirement for the signature to be from Northern Ireland.
"This obviously causes significant problems as Amnesty are attempting to persuade members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to overhaul the current laws on abortion in Northern Ireland.
"Assembly members should be aware of the fact that there is no way to verify that the 45,000 names are indeed legitimate or that they have any connection to Northern Ireland."