The Catholic Church is backing proposals to tighten Northern Ireland's abortion laws.
An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill introducing a new offence for ending the life of an unborn child has been jointly tabled by Lagan Valley DUP Assemblyman Paul Givan and North Belfast SDLP MLA Alban Maginness.
The law would mean that only the NHS could carry out legal terminations within Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws. Such a move would prevent the recently opened Marie Stopes and other private clinics from carrying out abortions.
The Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs (NICCOSA), which is chaired by Cardinal Sean Brady and Bishop Noel Treanor, welcomed the amendment, which is expected to be debated and voted on within days.
In a statement they said that all Catholics have a duty to uphold the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child. "The Catholic Church supports the proposed amendment 11A ('Ending the Life of an Unborn Child') to the Criminal Justice Bill as an important (...) improvement in the regulation, accountability and transparency of this area of medical practice in Northern Ireland in which the most fundamental moral and ethical principles for individual persons and society are at stake," it said.
"We encourage Catholics and all those who uphold the right to life as the most basic human right of all to pray for and support those politicians who have come together to propose this amendment and to work for a culture of life in our society. "
Meanwhile, pro-choice groups are staging a rally in Dublin today calling for the Irish government to legislate for abortion in the Republic before the summer recess.
Story so far
The DUP's Paul Givan and SDLP's Alban Maginness unveiled a joint amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that would stop private clinics performing terminations in Northern Ireland. They say they took the move to close a loophole in the law highlighted by the opening of a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast. Marie Stopes International said it operates within our law.