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Nuala O'Loan quits BMA ethics body over its stance on abortion

By Victoria O'Hara

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan has resigned from the British Medical Association's medical ethics committee over its backing of extending the UK abortion law to here.

Describing it as "disappointing", the Baroness said she felt she had no option but to quit over the "flawed piece of legislation".

"I believe in the sanctity and sacredness of human life, so I could not commit to anything inconsistent with that position," she told the Irish Catholic paper. "I felt I had no option but to resign."

Baroness O'Loan, who served as Northern Ireland's first Police Ombudsman between 1999 and 2007, was appointed to the committee in July, but stepped down following the first meeting.

"I felt there was no scope for change even if I was to debate the decision," she said. "I would have hoped to make a positive contribution to discussions, particularly around end-of-life care and care of vulnerable persons."

The committee debates ethical issues concerning the relationship between the medical profession, the public and the state.

It also liaises with the General Medical Council on all matters of ethics affecting medicine.

The 1967 Abortion Act permits terminations up to 24 weeks of pregnancy on grounds that include risk to the physical or mental health of the woman or existing children in the family, and abnormalities that could lead to a child being profoundly disabled.

Abortion is also allowed beyond 24 weeks if a woman's life or health is at serious risk, and for severe disabilities.

In October, the Department of Justice launched a consultation on potential changes to the law.

Justice Minister David Ford said he was making a "strong recommendation" for legislation to allow an abortion in circumstances where there was no prospect of the foetus being delivered and having a viable life, but he did not made any recommendation on the issue of termination in the case of sexual crimes.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission this month announced plans to take the Stormont government to the High Court over its refusal to liberalise the abortion law.

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