Attorney General John Larkin has come under intense criticism after it was revealed he made public comments comparing abortion to “putting a bullet in the back of the head” of a baby.
His comments were described as “brutal” by one openly pro-choice MLA.
The comments were made in a May 2008 radio discussion. They have focused attention on the Attorney General’s personal views on abortion and his offer to assist an Assembly committee investigate the Marie Stopes clinic that has opened in Belfast.
There is mounting political pressure for the Attorney General to step back from that offer.
So far, the SDLP has been alone in publicly defending him.
The UUP, Alliance and Sinn Fein have all been critical and DUP sources also expressed some reservations.
When he was asked about whether abortion would sometimes be justified in the case of foetal abnormality, Mr Larkin said: “If one is prepared to contemplate the destruction of a highly disabled, unborn child in the womb, one should also be prepared to contemplate, I think, putting a bullet in the back of the head of the child two days after it's born.”
He was speaking in a panel which included Dawn Purvis.
Ms Purvis was then an PUP MLA but is now the director of the Marie Stopes sexual health clinic which opened in Belfast on Thursday. The clinic offers medical abortions in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, but insists it does so only within the law.
When Ms Purvis dubbed Mr Larkin’s comments a disgrace he replied: “Help me out Dawn. Tell me the logical distinction between destroying the unborn child in the womb, seconds before birth and putting a bullet in the head of the child two days after it's born.”
Last week he took on the Marie Stopes issue publicly in a letter sent to the Stormont Justice Committee which accused the clinic of seeking a change in the abortion law.
He urged the committee to launch a probe into the facility. He then offered to question witnesses, to issue injunctions and to assist in any way he could.
The Attorney General said he was doing so in his role as
“Guardian of the Rule of Law”, part of his job description. However his main role is as chief legal adviser to the Executive.
Alliance MLA Anna Lo described his comments as “brutal” and called for him to step back.
However the SDLP’s Alban McGuinness, an abortion opponent, along with party leader Alasdair McDonnell, defended Mr Larkin, saying anyone taking on the role of Attorney General would have personal views.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, after expressing surprise at Mr Larkin’s comments, said: “This enforces the need for clarity regarding the role of the Attorney General. It is my understanding that he offers legal advice on devolved issues to the Executive. He is not employed to advise the Assembly.”