Belfast Telegraph

I won't back Foster bid to overturn new abortion law: Steve Aiken

The Ulster Unionist Party’s Steve Aiken said Northern Ireland has been stuck on the issue of abortion for far too long (Liam McBurney/PA)
The Ulster Unionist Party’s Steve Aiken said Northern Ireland has been stuck on the issue of abortion for far too long (Liam McBurney/PA)

By Eimear McGovern

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken has said he has an issue with proposed new legal framework around abortion, stating that the current time limit on the procedure in the UK is too late.

However, Mr Aiken said he won't back attempts to repeal, after a DUP 'policy plan' launched on Tuesday suggested that one of the party's main priorities is to overturn new laws relaxing abortion restrictions.

The DUP said it aims to fill what it described as a "dangerous vacuum of law and guidance created by [Stella] Creasy" in Northern Ireland by promoting a culture of “choosing life” through better perinatal services and “valuing children” through improved childcare.

Labour MP Ms Creasy on Tuesday accused Arlene Foster of "dehumanising" her in the party's election manifesto following her efforts to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

Ms Creasy, who is pregnant and has been the target of abuse by anti-abortion campaigners, tweeted: "'Creasy'? I'm a real person @DUPleader but you seem to want to actively encourage people to abuse me by dehumanising me in this way."

She tabled an amendment to a Northern Ireland bill paving the way for abortion reform.

"FWIW [for what it is worth] there's no dangerous 'vacuum' of law. Only a political party leader who is trying to scare women in Northern Ireland in a bid for votes," Ms Creasy added.

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Stella Creasy campaigned against NI abortion laws. (Parliament TV)

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.

Abortion was decriminalised as a result of action taken by Westminster, with those affected in the interim period until March continuing to travel to England for medical terminations.

When asked whether he would support Arlene Foster in her attempt to overturn the new laws, Mr Aiken said he wouldn't.

"No because we've had an opportunity for far too long. Anybody can listen to Sarah Ewart's testimony," he told the BBC's Talkback programme on Radio Ulster.

Sarah Ewart was denied an abortion in 2013, despite doctors saying her baby would not survive outside the womb, and had to travel to England for treatment.

Mr Aiken continued: "Northern Ireland has been stuck on this issue for far too long, particularly when it comes to fatal foetal abnormality and crimes against women.

"I think the current limit is far too late. I'm going to have to listen to the consultations and see where it goes."

Earlier this month, The Northern Ireland Office launched a six-week consultation on the legal framework governing abortion ahead of the introduction of termination services in Northern Ireland on March 31, 2020.

The consultation document covers a number of issues, including questions on the gestational limit for early terminations of pregnancy. It's not yet known what the time limit would be for an abortion in Northern Ireland. Most abortions in England, Wales and Scotland are carried out before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

They 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.

"I still need to think about this. I'm a Christian, I have very clear issues and I'm struggling with this particular part of that," said Mr Aiken.

He confirmed that for the UUP, abortion is a matter of conscience for members.

Speaking in October, Mr Aiken said he said he was "uncomfortable" with abortion outside of cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality.

He added: "I have four daughters and my two grown-up ones tell me that men must stop interfering with decisions women make about their bodies. I listen to my daughters."

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