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Anger as DUP tries to tighten abortion laws in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 02/06/2015

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson

Sinn Fein and Alliance have joined forces to block a legal amendment seeking to tighten abortion law in Northern Ireland.

The two Executive parties, along with the Green Party, submitted a 'petition of concern' against the amendment to the Justice Bill which is due to be debated in the Assembly today.

There were warnings the proposed change could result in a jail sentence of up to 10 years for any woman who has an abortion in a non-NHS clinic, or any health professional involved in the operation.

The DUP alteration to the legislation would have resulted in making any person who ends the life of an unborn child subject to a prison sentence "unless their actions were lawfully performed at a health and social care trust property such as a hospital or elsewhere if the circumstances were urgent and without a fee."

The use of the petition - essentially a veto - will see a protest at Stormont today from anti-abortion group Precious Life, which will involve 30 women.

The group argued the move against the amendment disregarded those who had made clear "that Marie Stopes (clinic) or any private abortion provider is not wanted or needed in Northern Ireland." Two years ago, another amendment that would have banned private clinics like Marie Stopes was blocked by a similar petition of concern.

Today's amendment, originally tabled by former Health Minister Jim Wells, is being moved by Alistair Ross, chair of the Assembly's justice committee.

But Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson argued: "This amendment is not about the wider debate around abortion. It is about denying patients the right to avail of the same health services outside the NHS and determining who can deliver medical services within the current law.

"On such a sensitive issue there should have been a full public consultation exercise, something that has not taken place on this amendment."

Grainne Teggart, of Amnesty International NI, commented: "Women's healthcare should not be a matter for criminal sanction."

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