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David Ford submits private member's bill to reform Northern Ireland abortion law in case of fatal foetal abnormalities

Published 19/10/2016

Former Alliance leader David Ford
Former Alliance leader David Ford

Former Alliance leader David Ford has submitted a private member’s bill in a bid to reform the law around the termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The South Antrim MLA tabled his Bill with the Assembly Speaker's Office on Wednesday.

If passed, it would enable women carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality to access a termination legally in Northern Ireland.

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It follows a previous attempt by Mr Ford to change the law while Justice Minister.

The row around abortion law in Northern Ireland was brought into focus two years ago through the case of Sarah Ewart.

The mum-to-be was 20 weeks' pregnant when a hospital scan failed to detect any sign of her baby's head. Afterwards, she and her husband were told the baby had anencephaly, meaning no skull had formed.

Despite the fatal abnormality, the law forced her to travel to England for an abortion.

In England, Scotland and Wales, the 1967 Abortion Act permits terminations up to 24 weeks of pregnancy on grounds that include risk to the physical wellbeing or mental health of the woman or existing children in the family.

Unlike in Northern Ireland, it also covers abnormalities that could lead to a child being seriously handicapped.

Mr Ford said: “Three years ago, I made a promise to Sarah Ewart that I would try to change the law to allow women such as her who wished to have a termination in cases of FFA to do so in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“In my previous role as Justice Minister, I attempted to bring legislation to the Executive to allow just that. However, other parties blocked that move and failed to accept my recommendations, which left women in those circumstances with no option but to continue the pregnancy or make the traumatic journey across the Irish Sea to seek a termination.

“The working group on abortion which was established before May’s election has sent its report to the Health and Justice Ministers. While that is welcome, any guidelines coming from it will not change the law to achieve the reform needed to help women who are given the dreadful diagnosis that a longed-for child has no prospect of life. This is not about disability, it is solely concerned with situations where a foetus cannot survive.

“A wide-ranging consultation has already been carried out on this issue by the Department of Justice. We know the desire is there in Northern Ireland for change to the law. We need to help the women who wish to seek a termination in these circumstances and we need to help them now.”

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