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Ford begins bid to allow abortion in NI for fatal foetal abnormality cases

By David Young

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

The Private Member's Bill brought forward by former Alliance leader and Justice Minister David Ford seeks to legalise terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities (FFA).

Abortions are currently only permitted here 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 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 to the issue 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 DUP/Sinn Fein-led Executive is due to outline its own response to the panel report early in the new year.

While Sinn Fein has indicated support for a law change in cases of FFA, the DUP has not yet publicly committed to such a move.

If the DUP opposes a law change, it could also vote down Mr Ford's Bill.

His effort to change the law when he was Justice Minister was blocked by colleagues in the power-sharing executive.

Ahead of officially tabling the Bill for its first Assembly stage, he commented: "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 that 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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