Belfast Telegraph

Calls on both sides of Irish border for change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland

Campaigners are determined to build on the momentum of the referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

A woman who fought a long legal battle to liberalise abortion law in Northern Ireland has urged Theresa May to step in.

Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK or Ireland not to allow the procedure after the Republic voted overwhelmingly for change in a referendum at the weekend.

Sarah Ewart went for a termination in England in 2013 after doctors told her her unborn baby would not survive outside the womb.

It’s a relief that women like me are going to be able to travel down to Dublin to access this procedure, but really we are wanting the help here to have it within our own hospitals in Northern Ireland Sarah Ewart

The Stormont Assembly is suspended due to the collapse of powersharing months ago.

Ms Ewart told the BBC: “If we had an assembly here, we would be literally at their doors begging, but we don’t so we are really hoping that we can have help from Westminster and Theresa May to give us the access we need here in Northern Ireland.

“It’s a relief that women like me are going to be able to travel down to Dublin to access this procedure, but really we are wanting the help here to have it within our own hospitals in Northern Ireland.”

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Regina Doherty (right) said legislation would be introduced to liberalise abortion in the Irish Republic (Josh Payne/PA)

Ms Ewart’s legal case galvanised an issue which has since made its way to the UK Supreme Court.

Mrs May is under pressure to intervene in the Northern Ireland debate following the two-to-one vote in favour of reform in Ireland.

Her Government is propped up in key votes by the DUP, which opposes any relaxation in the law and which has opposed any change in Northern Ireland under devolution.

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Theresa May has been urged to support liberalisation of Northern Ireland's laws (Leon Neal/PA)

Meanwhile, the Irish Government has said the Republic has “set the tone” for what should happen in Northern Ireland.

Employment Minister Regina Doherty said her colleagues will move quickly on legislation.

New laws are expected to be in place by the end of the year and Health Minister Simon Harris is to consult officials in his department on the legislation and guidelines.

The Irish Cabinet is due to meet on Tuesday to consider a memo on the way forward.

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Yes campaigners in Dublin Castle (Niall Carson/PA)

Asked whether she will be putting pressure on Mrs May to introduce legislation in Northern Ireland, Ms Doherty said: “I think she has enough pressure and I think the resounding mandate that was given by the Republic of Ireland managed to set the tone with regard to what should happen in Northern Ireland but obviously they are responsible for their own.”

She also said the “vast majority” of doctors will deliver the service women require despite some having a “conscientious objection” to the referendum result.

Those campaigning for liberalisation secured a stunning victory on Saturday, after it was confirmed that 66.4% of voters in Friday’s referendum backed repeal of the controversial Eighth Amendment of the constitution, which bans abortion in all but exceptional circumstances.

Mr Harris will seek cabinet backing on Tuesday to draft legislation that would allow abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, subject to medical advice and a cooling-off period, and up to 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances.

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