Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Lockhart slams abortion changes in maiden speech

By Steven Alexander

A newly-elected DUP MP has used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to speak out against the "extreme" liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

Abortion here was decriminalised by Westminster in the ongoing absence of a devolved government at Stormont, with those affected in the interim period until March continuing to travel to England for medical terminations.

Northern Ireland had the strictest abortion regime in the UK or Ireland up until October 22, with terminations only permitted if the mother's life was in danger or there was a serious risk to her physical or mental health.

Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart, who became a mother to baby Charlie last May, told MPs that abortion was now being "foisted on people in Northern Ireland". She said: "Abortion was, and should be, a devolved matter, yet this House has imposed on Northern Ireland the most extreme measures of abortion anywhere across Europe."

Ms Lockhart, who replaced MP David Simpson after he stood aside in the wake of an extramarital affair, claimed: "In Northern Ireland, abortion on request for any reason will be legalised to the point at which a baby is 'capable of being born alive'." In July, amid the slow collapse of Prime Minister Theresa May's Government and ongoing Stormont stalemate, Parliament legislated to legalise abortion and same-sex marriage as part of an Executive Formation Act.

Prior to this the legislation here had outlawed abortion in almost all circumstances.

The Northern Ireland Office carried out a consultation last month on the legal framework governing abortion ahead of the introduction of termination services here at the end of March.

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It covered a number of issues, including questions on the gestational limit for early terminations of pregnancy.

On Wednesday Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker told MPs that the Government is "working towards the laying of regulations for a new legal framework", which will come into force by March 31.

Opponents of reform believe the Government favours abortion on request to 12/14 weeks, but possibly up to 22/24 weeks in certain circumstances. Most terminations in England, Wales and Scotland are carried out before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Terminations in Britain can be carried out after 24 weeks in certain circumstances, for example if the mother's life is at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability.

The DUP failed in a last-ditch bid at Stormont to thwart reform late last year. But Ms Lockhart told MPs that the party would fight to overturn the new legislation "with immediate effect and allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate, discuss and evidence-gather on this emotive issue".

"The DUP is a pro-life party, but this actually crosses traditional boundaries and there is widespread cross-community support across Northern Ireland," she said.

"We have an evolving political landscape, and I say let the people of Northern Ireland have their say on this matter."

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