Belfast Telegraph

Jim Wells in referenda call over abortion and gay marriage

Jim Wells
Jim Wells
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

DUP MLA Jim Wells has been slammed as "highly insensitive" after calling for referenda to be held on the two significant changes to the law on social issues in Northern Ireland.

His call came as pro-abortion campaigners gathered at a vigil last night in the Republic to remember Savita Halappanavar, who died seven years ago having been wrongfully denied an abortion at University Hospital Galway.

Her death led to the passing of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 in the Republic.

Abortion and same-sex marriage became legal in Northern Ireland on October 21 after a Bill lifting restrictions was passed by Westminster.

The former Health Minister, who has had the DUP whip withdrawn and does not speak for the party, yesterday claimed the decisions had been made "in less than an hour, without prior warning and with no consultation".

The MLA for South Down said that all of the Northern Ireland MPs who take their seats at Westminster opposed the amendments.

"They were forced through late at night by others who had little or no understanding of the values of the people of this part of the United Kingdom," he said.

"I and many others strongly believe that both issues should be made the subject of referenda which will give the people of Northern Ireland the opportunity to have their say.

"There is huge concern in the community about the total lack of consultation prior to these changes and a sense of anger that they were unable to have their views considered in advance of October 21."

Alliance for Choice co-convenor Naomi Connor dismissed the call, insisting Mr Wells cannot "pick and choose" which matters should be decided by a referendum.

"Mr Wells wishes to ignore the fact that this decision was not taken in 'less than an hour' and organisations including Alliance for Choice have campaigned for many decades on the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. Mr Wells and others chose not to listen," she explained.

"Successive NI governments failed women and pregnant people repeatedly by refusing to legislate for abortion provision. Mr Wells is happy for women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies to be exported in silence to the UK where they are forced to travel, but is not content for the UK Government to legislate on the same issue.

"Human rights are not an a la carte menu that Mr Wells can pick and choose from and these matters should not be decided by referenda. It is doubtful that in the south of Ireland where the 8th amendment was repealed, that Mr Wells lauded the outcome as fair, democratic and the right decision.

"The fact that a minimum of 62,000 women have travelled to access abortion services since the 1967 Abortion Act was introduced in the rest of the UK is the real travesty and a very inconvenient truth for those who suddenly appear worried about the 'imposition' of this legislation.

"The fact that they would want women and pregnant people to remain invisible and continue to make these journeys in stigma and shame is entirely unacceptable. It is highly insensitive that Mr Wells would chose to make these comments around the anniversary of Savita Halappanavar."

She added: "A referendum would not be legally binding as we do not have a written constitution... it would be a plebiscite."

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