Belfast Telegraph

Stormont row may delay new guidelines

By Liam Clarke

Stormont's Justice and Health ministers are at odds on a way forward over abortion, with the dispute threatening to cause more delays in issuing new guidelines to medical staff and reforming the law.

David Ford, the Justice Minister, is poised to launch one much-delayed consultation on the legal framework for abortion. Edwin Poots, his counterpart in Health, will wait until it is over to start another consultation on where abortions can be carried out.

Yesterday Mr Ford said that his consultation documents would be issued by the autumn.

He called for his consultation and Mr Poots' to run concurrently, or be combined into one, and revealed that he had written to Mr Poots about this suggestion.

The Alliance leader also said that if Mr Poots did not agree he would proceed with his own consultation in the autumn.

But last night Mr Poots rejected the suggestion for a co-ordinated approach.

A spokesman said: "Minister Poots is mindful that a consultation at this time regarding the facilities at which terminations of pregnancy should be available could risk creating unnecessary confusion alongside the broader consideration of the law on abortion that the Justice Minister has committed to."

The abortion law here is much more restrictive than the rest of the UK and has always been controversial.

It came into focus last year when Marie Stopes, a private medical charity, opened a Belfast clinic offering early term "medical abortions" by the use of pills. Mr Poots questioned whether terminations should be allowed outside the National Health Service.

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