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Northern Ireland peers decry lack of time to speak on abortion debate

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Opposition: Baroness O’Loan

Opposition: Baroness O’Loan

Opposition: Baroness O’Loan

Eight peers from Northern Ireland have complained that they have only been given 13 minutes between them to speak on new abortion regulations here in the House of Lords today.

The unionist and nationalist members of the Upper House have jointly appealed to the Government to allow them to speak for at least five minutes during the only Lords debate on the new rules.

Some 33 peers from Britain, where the legislation does not apply, will be allowed to speak during the 90-minute debate.

MLAs recently voted by a majority to reject the abortion legislation, which allows terminations to be carried out up to 12 weeks on request, and up to 24 weeks if the mother's mental or physical health is jeopardised. In cases of fatal foetal abnormality or impairment, no time restrictions apply.

Peers will vote on the regulations today, while MPs in the House of Commons will address them on Wednesday.

The local peers - among them former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan; former SDLP leader Baroness Ritchie; former Assembly Speaker Lord Hay, and former Ulster Unionst MPs Lord Kilclooney and Lord Maginnis - have queried the time limit in an open letter.

The letter states that if they are denied this "basic courtesy", it would "constitute the gravest insult to the people of Northern Ireland".

Disability rights campaigner Heidi Crowter is calling on peers and MPs to "reject this discriminatory legislation" given the change in social attitudes towards disability in recent years.

Meanwhile, reproductive rights group Alliance For Choice has told The Observer newspaper that women have been forced to order abortion pills online or travel overseas to have a termination because some GPs and healthcare professionals in Northern Ireland are refusing to refer women here to abortion services.

Letters, page 19

Belfast Telegraph