Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

MLAs' vote to alter law on abortion faces delay

Anna Lo
Anna Lo

In the latest twist in the abortion debate it has been revealed an Assembly vote on a potential change in the law governing terminations could now be delayed.

The news came just after Health Minister Edwin Poots said he would take draft advice on abortion in Northern Ireland to the Executive for approval next week.

The vote on a possible change in abortion law, prompted by a challenge from two Assembly members, could now be postponed on the request of Justice Minister David Ford.

It was expected to take place next Tuesday, following an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill tabled by the DUP's Paul Givan and the SDLP's Alban Maginness.

The pair had hoped their changes would restrict abortions to the NHS, effectively criminalising Northern Ireland's only private abortion clinic, Marie Stopes International, in Belfast.

Mr Ford wants a postponement of the vote until March 12 due to issues surrounding the opening of courts on Sundays in case of any G8-related public order problems.

News of the potential delay came the day after Mr Poots revealed he had finalised guidelines for medical staff on abortions here.

Alliance's Anna Lo said they will "remove confusion and uncertainty" but criticised the move to restrict abortions to the NHS.

The South Belfast MLA said: "The NHS contracts many services to private health care firms – I find the hypocrisy staggering."

She added that a petition of concern was circulating at Stormont to block the proposed amendment.

Meanwhile, the two largest Protestant churches have welcome the move to restrict terminations here to the NHS.

The Rev Adrian Dorrian, Chair of the Church of Ireland's Board for Social Theology, said it was vital that if a termination proved necessary "it is done so to the highest possible standards of clinical professionalism and with appropriate oversight".

"Where there are questions about the efficacy of such oversight, such as in a private healthcare setting, the board welcomes attempts by government to ensure that standards will not be compromised," he said.

The Rev Norman Hamilton, convener of the Presbyterian Church and Society Committee, said: "Even in these extreme cases where medical abortion might be necessary the most stringent safeguards should be provided and the proposed amendment further strengthens the existing regulations."

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