Belfast Telegraph

Abortion reform live: Church and rights body lobby MLAs ahead of Northern Ireland vote

By Noel McAdam

MLAs have been coming under increasing pressure from both sides of the intense abortion debate ahead of a key vote today.

Catholic bishops have urged the faithful to contact their political representatives to prevent the law from being changed.

In a joint statement last night, they said: "We encourage Catholics and others, even at this stage, to contact their politicians to express concern and to ask them to uphold the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child."

But Amnesty International said changing the abortion law would be an "important first step" in bringing Northern Ireland into line with international human rights standards.

In a letter to MLAs, Amnesty NI director Patrick Corrigan said legislation was "in desperate and urgent need of reform".

The vote is being touted as a landmark Assembly moment that could see terminations permitted in limited circumstances. It remains unclear if parties will allow a free vote.

The first major debate on the issue in three years will be held in the Stormont chamber, which normally sits only on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Alliance Party has proposed an amendment to the law that would allow abortions in cases where the unborn child had a life-limiting condition - what has been referred to as fatal foetal abnormality.

But the Catholic bishops argued: "The proposed amendment extends the law on abortion and cannot be reconciled in any way with a commitment to the universal moral principle of the right to life upon which the very existence and wellbeing of society is founded. It involves Members of the Assembly weighing the value of one life against another."

Today's debate comes after Justice Minister and Alliance leader David Ford brought a proposal to the Executive last June which would have led to legislation in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The proposal failed to proceed because the Executive did not meet for more than three months in the second half of last year after the shooting of Kevin McGuigan. During this period, the DUP implemented its in/out protest after Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey was arrested by police investigating the murder.

Mr Storey, who denied involvement, was later released without charge.

Against a backdrop of political stalemate, Belfast High Court ruled in December that the province's abortion law could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn, who is introducing today's amendment along with his party colleague Stewart Dickson, has asked the Stormont parties to allow a free vote, which he said would lead to the motion passing."Further to that, I plead with the larger parties - in particular the DUP - not to use the petition of concern mechanism to block it," he added.

The DUP said it would unveil its plans closer to the debate.

Belfast Telegraph


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