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Abortion-supporting MLA Matthew O'Toole 'out of step with most of the SDLP', says former party rep Richie McPhillips

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Richie McPhillips

Richie McPhillips

Matthew O’Toole

Matthew O’Toole

Richie McPhillips

A former SDLP representative has criticised a party MLA for his pro-abortion views, saying he did "not speak for me or the vast majority of SDLP members".

Richie McPhillips hit out at comments made by South Belfast MLA Matthew O'Toole at Stormont on Tuesday.

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr O'Toole said he welcomed the fact that abortion is now legal in Northern Ireland.

The new regulations, which came into force on Tuesday, allow for terminations to be carried out in all circumstances in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

Following Mr O'Toole's comments, former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Richie McPhillips tweeted: "The Assembly is sitting this morning and discussing the legislation.

"Disappointing to hear the SDLP member for South Belfast (Mr O'Toole) speak in favour of the changes. He does not speak for me or the vast majority of SDLP members."

As a father and grandfather and the father of a doctor, I know only too well the great problem these new laws have brought upon society here in Northern Ireland Richie McPhillips

Mr McPhillips later added: "As a member of the SDLP, a party that was founded out of the Civil Rights Association, what other greater civil right is there than the right to life? I am referring to life of the unborn and the mother in this situation.

"I know for many it is a very emotive issue, but the importance of life and especially life in the womb cannot be dismissed, as some do.

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Matthew O’Toole

Matthew O’Toole

Matthew O’Toole

"As a father and grandfather and the father of a doctor, I know only too well the great problem these new laws have brought upon society here in Northern Ireland.

"I can only hope like many that the Assembly will in the future have an opportunity to reverse the law."

Mr O'Toole and the SDLP were contacted for comment.

An SDLP spokeswoman said: "SDLP elected representatives have the freedom to vote in accordance with their conscience on this issue."

Abortion was previously allowed only in limited circumstances. However, last July MPs at Westminster passed provisions on terminations in the absence of the Assembly.

It fell to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to come up with a framework to oversee the provision of abortion services.

These were published last week, setting out when and where abortions could take place, as well as who could carry them out.

Here in Northern Ireland we have the most extreme and radical abortion laws anywhere in Europe Paul Givan

Tuesday's debate at Stormont heard claims the new regime was among the most liberal in Europe.

DUP MLA Paul Givan criticised the NIO for introducing the changes even though Stormont was sitting.

He also claimed the abortion industry would be pleased.

"Here in Northern Ireland we have the most extreme and radical abortion laws anywhere in Europe," Mr Givan said.

"It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen."

The regulations allow terminations on request for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Where there is a risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman, the limit is extended to 24 weeks.

Abortion is also available without limit in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies.

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "From today, what should be the safest place for an unborn (child) - namely, its mother's womb - can become on a whim one of the most dangerous places because we are going now to have utterly unfettered, uncontrolled abortion up to 12 weeks."

Belfast Telegraph