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Pro-life groups say changing NI abortion law goes against devolution rules

Thu 25 Apr 2019
By Heather Preston

The Women and Equalities Committee are calling on Westminster to change abortion law in Northern Ireland, but pro-life groups point out that none of them represent Northern Ireland.

A report released by a group of MPs is recommending new legislation to allow an unborn child with life limiting disabilities to be terminated in Northern Ireland.

Currently, abortions are only allowed in extreme circumstances and the plan is to allow them in cases of 'fatal foetal abnormality'.



Co-founder of pro-life group Both Lives Matter, Dawn McAvoy, told Premier that changing abortion law is not Westminister's decision to make: "Westminster shouldn't interfere because abortion is a devolved issue to Northern Ireland.

"Health and justice are both devolved to our local assembly and that really is a strong part of the basis of the Good Friday Agreement from 1998. So it would be contrary to the understanding between the UK Government and Northern Ireland and that peace agreement."

However, there is currently no government at the Northern Ireland assembly at Stormont, leading campaigners to say there must be a timetable put into action by the UK government for women to access abortion legally in the meantime.

Those in favour of making terminations more accessible say many women already travel to England alone to undertake the experience or buy abortion pills online.

The report also cites a UN Committee who said there were ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ breaches of women’s rights in Northern's Ireland's abortion laws.

Both Lives Matter point out though that the Women and Equalities Committee report does not take into account the 88% of submissions in a Comres poll made by the Northern Irish public by people who do not want Westminster to change the law on abortion.

They also highlighted that on page 58 of the report was another report about devolution concerns, supported by two members of the committee. It also drew attention to the fact that the UN committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women's (CEDAW) opinions about Northern Ireland's laws being breaches of human rights were not binding and that their comments should be taken with more measure.

Those pages of the report suggest implementing more regional places of care for expectant women and measuring the impact of them before changing the law.

Dawn McAvoy said: "As a campaign, we are very much always bearing in mind the two lives that are in existence, at least, in every pregnancy and our name says both of those lives matter.

"So we have always said that when a woman in that circumstance receives a prenatal diagnosis where her unborn baby will probably not live for very long, much more can and should be done to provide support and care for women in those circumstances and their wider family, and that includes Northern Ireland, but across the UK".

"If this legislation went to the House of Commons there is no guarantee that MPs seeking wider abortion change, that they wouldn't tag amendments on and then the scope of the legislation would be pushed much wider."


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