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DUP calls for abortion reform to be dealt with at Northern Ireland Assembly

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is chair of the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is chair of the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is chair of the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group

The DUP has called for the reform of abortion legislation to be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Last year, the Westminster parliament introduced new abortion laws in Northern Ireland because of the failure of MLAs to restore power sharing by an October deadline.

At Northern Ireland questions on Wednesday in the Commons, Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson asked for an assessment of the effect of the collapse of Flybe on the ability of women in Northern Ireland to access abortion services in England.

As MPs were only allowed to ask questions tabled in advance, the coronavirus crisis was only mentioned briefly.

Minister for state Robin Walker informed MPs flights had been re-booked to ensure access with the government funding all costs, including accommodation. He said efforts were underway to improve connectivity.

He said the government was under a "clear duty" to introduce abortion reform in Northern Ireland with regulations to be laid before parliament before the end of the month.

Dame Johnson described the past six months of abortion being unavailable in Northern Ireland as a "lost opportunity".

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party's "priority in the current circumstances was to protect life including that of the unborn child".

He added: "The minister will be aware of concern my party has expressed including the first minister about the decision to press on with regulation on abortion in Northern Ireland despite the Assembly being restored and this being a clear breach of the devolution settlement.

"Will the minister heed calls from Northern Ireland politicians for this matter to be dealt with by the Assembly and not this parliament."

Mr Walker said he recognised the views of the MP, but that the government was legally obligated to act.

Before October 2019, abortion was only allowed in NI if a woman's life was at risk or there was a danger of permanent and serious damage to her physical or mental health.

When the law came in there was an interim period of six months to give health authorities an opportunity to develop a system to allow for abortions to take place in Northern Ireland.

In 2018, 1,053 travelled to England and Wales for a procedure.

From April abortions are to be provided at two hospital sites in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph