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Alliance chief Ford seeks backing to allow abortions in Northern Ireland when child will die

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 17/04/2015

David Ford wants to see the law reformed
David Ford wants to see the law reformed

Stormont is to be asked for permission to change Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws to allow a termination in the case of a child which will not survive outside the womb.

But Minister of Justice David Ford said he would not go as far as also asking for abortion to be allowed in the case of rape.

Mr Ford is to approach the Executive after tens of thousands of people, including medical experts, responded to a public consultation on the controversial subject on whether to allow abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, when a baby has no chance of survival outside the womb.

His department said, following the consultation which was launched last October, there was evidence to make limited changes to the law.

Mr Ford said he will now ask the Executive for approval to introduce the recommended legislation, which then requires an Assembly vote.

"After full and careful consideration of the evidence submitted, I have concluded that to change the law along the lines outlined in the consultation paper is the right thing to do," Mr Ford said.

MLAs on the justice scrutiny committee were briefed by Department of Justice officials at Stormont yesterday and told there were also 65 responses from representative organisations, 47 of which supported reform.

A petition opposing any alteration of the law was signed by 23,622 people and submitted.

Former Health Minister Edwin Poots accused the Department of ignoring the public views. "You engage in a public consultation exercise and then chosen to ignore the outcome of that consultation, so what was the point of the consultation if you weren't going to pay any attention whatsoever to what is being said to you?" he said.

Amanda Patterson from the Department of Justice strongly defended the decision, however, adding that the exercise was "not a referendum".

"It was not about working out how many people said one thing and how many people said the other.

"We looked at arguments and positions and decide on the substance, content and weight of those arguments," she said.

Amnesty International campaigner Grainne Teggart described the move as "an important step towards much-needed reform".

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