Belfast Telegraph

Hamilton denies 'vile' treatment claims by Sarah Ewart

By Staff Reporter

The Health Minister has said his "sincerity" in dealing with laws on abortion cannot be questioned after a woman forced to travel to England for a termination criticised the "vile" treatment of women in her position.

In 2013 Sarah Ewart revealed how, at 20 weeks pregnant, her baby had been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.

His brain had not developed and had no skull, and he could not survive outside the womb.

But under the abortion law in Northern Ireland, Sarah was told that as her own health was not at risk, she would have to carry the baby to full term.

Since then Sarah has campaigned for changes to the law.

She has now written to First Minister Arlene Foster and Health Minister Simon Hamilton to ask if new guidelines on abortion have been issued to health workers, or if a working group that the DUP said would be set up last month had even been established.

During a passionate Stormont debate last month, MLAs voted against legalising terminations in certain limited circumstances. "In the letter, I said the treatment that I had was vile, that the scaremongering that had gone on before the vote... it was just vile how we were treated," said Sarah.

Last night Mr Hamilton confirmed that the group had not yet been set up as he was still "giving thought to the most appropriate way" to do so.

And he hit out at accusations Sarah had been badly treated, saying he could not imagine what she had gone through.

"I greatly admire her bravery in speaking about her experience," he said.

"But I respectfully disagree with her view that politicians were vile to her.

"I met Sarah and her mother twice along with Arlene (Foster). Whilst Sarah may not have agreed with everything we said, I know that at all times our discussions were good-natured and, I thought, mutually respectful.

"My sincerity in dealing with this matter could not be questioned. This issue requires a mature discussion and my contributions to the debate will always be such."

Earlier, a dismayed Sarah had told BBC Evening Extra: "It's been a very long journey - and we've got nowhere."

And she added: "I spent my weekend after the vote putting away my baby stuff."

This is because - even though she would love to try again for a baby - Sarah is afraid of suffering the same type of pregnancy again.

"At the moment I couldn't face going across the water again, and that's the position that this law's putting us in," she said. Instead of changes to the law, the DUP asked Mr Hamilton to set up the working group to examine how the fatal foetal abnormality issue could be addressed.

But with that group not expected to report for six months, the DUP has faced criticism for shelving the issue until after the May election.

Mr Hamilton said he would "engage directly with other ministers next week to discuss the matter further before finally deciding the best way forward to address this important issue". "This is a matter of such seriousness and sensitivity that it does require us all as a society to take our time and fully reflect on every element of the issue and not rush to make what might turn out to be bad law with unintended consequences," he said.

"As we consider this issue further I hope that everyone does so with the respect it deserves."

Before the Assembly vote, Sarah said she had talked to politicians at Stormont and that some told her that they wanted to help and move things forward, but "unfortunately their hands were tied".

"Their party leaders had them tied in to what way to vote," she added. "And if that 'tie' hadn't been there, we would have had more votes. We would have had the help that we needed."

In her letter to Mr Hamilton, Sarah and her mother, Jane Christie, said they "were extremely upset at the scaremongering and vileness of some of the total rubbish being used to prevent her from getting this medical treatment".

They said they had "hit a brick wall" and that Sarah now did not expect movement before the election.

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