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Archbishop in Stormont abortion row

The head of the Catholic church in Ireland has accused Stormont's justice minister of trying to exclude pro-life arguments from a consultation on changing the abortion law.

Abortions should be allowed in Northern Ireland where the foetus has a lethal abnormality, David Ford's Justice Department has recommended.

The department has begun a public consultation on amending the criminal law on abortion.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said: "I want to bring to your attention a consultation document from the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland which proposes that totally innocent and terminally ill babies in the womb will no longer have an absolute right to life, nor the right to all the care and medical support that we would expect and wish for any child or adult who is terminally ill.

"Notwithstanding the extraordinary and unprecedented attempt of the consultation document to exclude pro-life arguments from the debate, when we meet the minister and his officials this week, a delegation from the Catholic Church will be making a robust and unapologetic defence of the right to life of both mothers and their terminally ill children during pregnancy and calling for all the love and support that we as a society can give them."

He said this must include the ready availability of good quality before and after birth hospice care and counselling for those facing the trauma of having a terminally ill unborn child.

"With the support of my fellow bishops, I encourage all those who support a culture of life to respond this week to the consultation process of the Department of Justice and to ask their politicians where they stand on these issues."

Members of the public have been asked for opinions on possible changes to the law in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and rape. Currently, neither circumstance allows a legal abortion in Northern Ireland.

Lethal foetal abnormality means a baby in the womb has a condition which means it will die while either in the womb or shortly after birth.

Mr Ford said he was making a strong recommendation for legislation to allow an abortion in circumstances where there is no prospect of the foetus being delivered and having a viable life.

Last month the Archbishop of Armagh said there was no absolute obligation to prolong life in all circumstances.

Doctors in Ireland were granted permission to switch off a life support machine keeping a clinically-dead woman alive because she was pregnant.

In a landmark ruling, Dublin's High Court said keeping the young mother alive would deprive her of dignity in death and subject her father, partner and two young children to "unimaginable distress" in a "futile exercise".

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: "It is important to remember this is a consultation exercise and no decisions have been taken regarding changes to legislation.

"The Justice Minister David Ford is keen to hear as many views as possible and is in the process of meeting a range of organisations, including the main churches."

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