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Bid to change Northern Ireland abortion laws tabled at Stormont

A legislative bid to change abortion laws in Northern Ireland has been tabled at the Stormont Assembly.

The Private Members' Bill brought forward by former Alliance party leader and Stormont justice minister David Ford seeks to legalise terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities (FFA).

Abortions are currently only permitted in Northern Ireland when there is a serious risk to the mother's health.

Mr Ford's Bill started its legislative journey through the Assembly as ministers on the Stormont Executive continue to consider the recommendations of an expert panel it commissioned to examine the law in instances of FFA.

Public focus has been drawn on to such diagnoses after a number of high profile cases of women travelling to England to access abortion after they were told by Northern Ireland doctors their babies would not survive outside the womb.

The Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein led executive are due to outline their own response to the panel report in the early new year. While Sinn Fein has indicated support for a law change in respect of FFA, the DUP has not yet publicly committed to such a move.

If the DUP come out against a law change, the party could also vote down Mr Ford's Private Members' Bill.

Mr Ford's effort to change the law when he was justice minister was blocked by colleagues in the powersharing executive.

Ahead of officially tabling the Bill for its first Assembly stage, he said: "I hope it will be the next step on the road to both confronting and changing the reality of the situation women given such a diagnosis currently face."

The development in the Assembly was criticised by a number of pro-life groups.

Bernadette Smyth, from campaign group Precious Life, claimed that no healthcare could determine with certainty that an unborn child would die immediately after birth.

"If passed, this Bill would open the door to the killing of unborn children with life-limiting disabilities right up to the moment of birth," she said.

"That is why the pro-life majority in Northern Ireland are calling on the Northern Ireland Assembly to 'Kill the Bill, Not the Child'."

Last year, a senior judge in Belfast found the ban on terminations in instances of sexual crime or fatal foetal abnormalities was incompatible with international human rights laws.

The ruling was appealed by Attorney General John Larkin QC and Stormont's Department of Justice and judges are considering arguments made during that hearing.

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