Abortion laws need adjustment, says Justice Minister David Ford
One of the most emotive issues in Northern Ireland is how we legislate for abortion. Recent opinion surveys, however, suggest there is growing support for modest adjustment to our laws.
In October, I launched a consultation on the law on abortion in two very specific circumstances: firstly, to enable terminations to be offered to women who have been told that the baby they are carrying has a lethal abnormality (meaning there is no prospect of survival after birth) and, secondly, to women who have become pregnant as a result of a sexual crime.
Any change to the law that may happen as a result of this consultation will not bring in the provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act.
I am proposing to introduce a small legislative change to enable individual women who wish to terminate a pregnancy when there is no hope of any independent life to make that choice freely and openly, without criminal barriers, or the need to travel outside Northern Ireland.
The opinion of two doctors that there is an abnormality which is incompatible with life, and for which there could be no medical intervention, will be required before termination would become an option.
I have also asked people to consider changing the law to provide a similar option for those women who find themselves pregnant as a result of sexual crime.
The overall law in all other circumstances will not change. It will still be illegal to perform an abortion in Northern Ireland except, as is the case now, where a risk to the life of the mother, or to her physical, or mental, health, is likely to be either long-term or permanent.
It is my view that the choice of a termination in the circumstances of lethal foetal abnormality should be available as a statutory right.
As Justice Minister, my focus is to see how we, as a society, can respond, with empathy, fairness and respect, to the needs of women faced with these hugely difficult, traumatic, circumstances.
Any woman who wishes to continue to delivery must have that right.
The consultation closes on January 17. I urge anyone who has not already done so to respond on these issues.
- David Ford MLA is Minister of Justice