Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Is it time to reform abortion laws in Northern Ireland? - DUP says no to change

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has said the Republic's abortion referendum result will have no impact on the law in Northern Ireland and that her party remains pro-life.

The DUP leader was speaking as pressure grew on Prime Minister Theresa May to liberalise our abortion law which is among the most restrictive in Europe.

Cabinet ministers and Tory backbenchers joined the Labour Party in calling on the government to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

A rally in support of lifting the almost total ban on abortion here will be held outside City Hall at 5pm today.

After their landslide victory in the Republic, pro-choice activists have pledged to now focus their attention on this side of the border. On Thursday, around 20 women will openly break the law by driving a bus around Northern Ireland distributing abortion pills. Some activists will swallow tablets in defiance of what they call "archaic legislation".

But Mrs Foster last night said abortion legislation is a devolved matter and it is for the Assembly to debate and decide the issue.

"Friday's referendum has no impact upon the law in Northern, but we obviously take note of issues impacting upon our nearest neighbour," she said.

"The DUP is a pro-life party and we will continue to articulate our position."

In apparent reference to the crowds gathered at Dublin Castle who were addressed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after Saturday's historic result, Mrs Foster said: "It is an extremely sensitive issue and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration."

She said that while Sinn Fein demanded abortion reform here, the party was "blocking devolution or demanding that Westminster change the law whilst simultaneously opposing direct rule".

DUP MP Sammy Wilson told the BBC it would be "hypocritical" for Parliament to change the law here unless the government decided to impose direct rule.

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International said Downing Street could no longer "remain complicit in the harm and suffering caused to women by our restrictive abortion laws". She urged politicians in London to follow Dublin's example and "stand up for women and legislate for much-needed and long-overdue reform".

Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt said the Republic's referendum was a "historic and great day for Ireland" and a "hopeful one for Northern Ireland".

Former Equalities Minister Justine Greening said: "It's clear it's now time for debate and action to achieve the rights for Northern Ireland we have as women across the rest of the UK."

Education Minister Anne Milton suggested she would back liberalisation if there was a free vote. Labour MP Stella Creasy claimed over 140 MPs had already signalled their support for law change in Northern Ireland and called on Mrs May to allow a free vote in Parliament.

Grainne Griffin of the Republic's 'Together for Yes' campaign said: "Our minds and our eyes turn to the North where there is a need for clear, comprehensive abortion legislation to be introduced to give women access to the care they need."

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill said Northern Ireland was becoming "a backwater" where fundamental rights were being denied by "political unionism".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the referendum result as a victory for "compassion and understanding" and that it was "unfair" that Stormont wasn't meeting to legislate on the issue.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said the abortion issue here needed to be "clarified urgently".

Green MLA Clare Bailey called for the law to be changed and said Northern Ireland "remains stuck in a regressive rut" with "one of the most oppressive regimes in Western Europe".

Anti-abortion activists have written to Mrs May urging her not to change the law which they claim has ensured 100,000 people are alive today "who would otherwise have been aborted".

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