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Woodward: Abortion won’t be extended to Northern Ireland

By Sam Lister

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward yesterday insisted the Government will not make any moves to extend abortion laws to Northern Ireland.

Quizzed on what the policy is for dealing with the highly sensitive issue, which Westminster politicians attempted to tag on to embryology legislation in the Commons last month, the Secretary of State said the Assembly was the best place to examine the law banning women from having the procedure.

But he used the opportunity to highlight once again that responsibility for the matter will only come under Stormont’s brief when criminal justice powers are transferred.

Responding to a parliamentary question Mr Woodward said: “Successive government have consistently said that extending the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland would need the most careful consultation there and that no change to the current arrangements should be made against the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland.

“The Government believes that the best forum for taking decisions on this matter is the Northern Ireland Assembly once it has taken responsibility for criminal law.”

Pro-choice and pro-life campaigners want to make changes to the Abortion Act 1967 that would affect the whole of the UK.

But despite indications that the Government would make time on the floor of the Commons to debate abortion in the near future after the strength of feeling shown by both sides last month, Chris Bryant, Deputy Leader of the House, did little to boost hopes of pro-abortion campaigners.

He said: “Plans for debates will be announced through the session in the usual way.

“I understand the interest in this issue and I am aware that for many years that matter of abortion has been raised from the backbenches.

“The Government has no plans to legislate.”

And although the Government’s position will come as no surprise to pro-choice campaigners it will be viewed as a further block to any last ditch attempts to give Ulster’s women the same rights as those in the rest of the UK while responsibility for it still remains in parliament.

London MP Diane Abbott, however, has pledged to continue to fight for reform by tabling a private member’s bill after the Government killed off her amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

This pledge has already angered political parties and pro-life activists here who have branded it “laughable” and “desperate gesture politics”.

Last month, Bernie Smyth from Precious Life said: “Diane Abbott is still arrogantly ignoring the clear pro-life message from our politicians, church leaders, and our people.

“My message to Diane Abbot is butt out of Northern Ireland and stop interfering in our protection of our unborn children,” she added.

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