Northern Ireland could have a pro-life Health Minister when an United Nations deadline for the UK government to act on "discriminatory" abortion laws here is reached next summer.
It's been revealed that a UN committee has given the Government until next July to report on its implementation plans to update abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
The recommended changes would mean that women could legally have a pregnancy terminated here in the circumstances of rape, incest, threats to the woman's health and serious malformation of the foetus.
The UN reporting deadline was highlighted yesterday by Virginia McVea, director of Northern Ireland Human Rights Association.
She said: "The law regarding abortion needs to be clear, for women, their families and healthcare professionals, and we hope that the government will respond as quickly as possible to the requirements of the committee."
Meanwhile, the DUP has not ruled out Assembly member Jim Wells taking over from Health Minister Edwin Poots after it emerged abortion laws here breach women's human rights.
A party spokesman said yesterday: "The decision as to when and who is appointed as minister is a decision entirely up to the party leader."
The spokesman added that the abortion laws here were criminal laws as applied by the Department of Justice and any Health Minister, irrespective of their personal viewpoint, could only act within the law. Mr Wells (below) is one of 10 MLAs who are members of the All-Party Pro Life group at Stormont.
Abortion laws in Northern Ireland have been under the spotlight since two young women – both told that their babies were so severely deformed there was no chance of life on birth – were refused terminations on such medical grounds.
Mr Poots met with Mrs Sarah Ewart – the young woman who was refused a termination of her pregnancy here despite her baby having anencephaly – and her family on Thursday evening.
He plans to meet with a Lisburn couple, known as Chris and Laura, early next week, who face a similar situation.
Well-known pro-choice advocate Anna Lo from the Alliance Party said yesterday: "All our politicians here from both sides need to leave their bibles of whatever colour at the front door and give women what they need. It's about their human rights."
STORY SO FAR
The contentious abortion law debate in Northern Ireland reignited this week when two young women went public with their stories of being refused abortions here on medical grounds. The first woman, Mrs Sarah Ewart, had her pregnancy terminated earlier this week, while the second woman, Laura, is considering going to London to have her twins aborted.