DUP will block any abortion law change, says Jim Wells
A DUP MLA says his party will use the Petition of Concern to block any change to the abortion laws in Northern Ireland, should the question ever come before Stormont in the future.
The comments sparked a war of words on the BBC Stephen Nolan Show yesterday morning as former Health Minister Jim Wells came face to face with Sarah Ewart, who had to leave Northern Ireland for a termination in England in 2013 after a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis.
Mr Wells is adamant his party will continue to oppose any attempts to change the legislation following last weekend's Yes vote in the Republic of Ireland referendum.
"I believe the people of Northern Ireland genuinely feel that the legislation that has protected the lives of unborn children is worth preserving," said Mr Wells.
"I can accept that there are a very small number of difficult cases which require compassion and support, but the difficulty is that all the evidence throughout the world shows that if you touch the legislation at all, it opens the floodgates for abortion on demand."
But Ms Ewart countered: "This is not about abortion on demand. This is about medical care. We need help."
The pair also clashed over a previous meeting, held during Mr Wells' time as Health Minister. Ms Ewart said: "At that meeting I was told the births are not difficult, that sometimes consultants get it wrong. I find that appalling. If you remember I left that meeting very upset."
But Mr Wells replied: "I have to say to Sarah that her recollection of that meeting and mine are totally different." Mr Wells continued: "The vote in the Republic doesn't affect the legal position in Northern Ireland, as far as I'm concerned.
"Northern Ireland has the right to make a decision on this issue on behalf of the people in this province. To anyone who says our Prime Minister Teresa May should intervene, I'd say you can't pick and choose over devolution. This is best left to the Assembly."
Mr Wells added: "On February 10, 2016 the Assembly debated this matter. It was a very well balanced and well tempered debate, but the Assembly voted two to one not to implement any changes to our legislation. I have no doubt if that debate was held now, the Assembly would make the same decision."
Ms Ewart replied: "Once again, nobody is talking about abortion on demand. This is about fatal foetal abnormality. You are causing more stress. The Assembly has changed. Hospital scans have changed. We have to be able to trust our consultants."
There was a further clash over the nature of the celebrations following the result.
Mr Wells said: "We saw thousands of people in Dublin cheering and having a street party after being given the right to kill their unborn children. An awful lot of people in Northern Ireland found that grotesque."
In reply Ms Ewart said: "They realised their women are now being looked after."
"No, I'm afraid not," said Mr Wells, "and we can't have a knee jerk reaction in Northern Ireland simply because the Irish Republic has taken this decision."
Ms Ewart replied: "But this is people's lives."
At one stage Stephen Nolan asked why Mr Wells was not looking at Ms Ewart. Mr Wells replied that it was down to the configuration of the studio.