Ministers clash over abortion proposals

 

DAN KEE


Stormont Ministers have clashed over an abortion proposal to come before the Assembly tomorrow. An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill tabled jointly by the DUP and SDLP is seeking to prevent abortions in Northern Ireland being performed anywhere other than through the National Health Service.

However, Minister for Justice David Ford has said he will oppose the measure, claiming amendment of criminal justice legislation is not the best way to regulate abortion provision and suggesting certain forms of contraception could be outlawed if the amendment is passed.

“Tacking on a last-minute amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill is not the way to deal with this issue,” he said. “I believe that the wording of the amendment could lead to overlapping offences and would cause confusion in an area where clarity is needed.

“Potentially, it could also criminalise certain forms of contraception and it would be liable to be challenged in the courts.”

Criticised
This prompted Minister for Health Edwin Poots, who circulated his department’s abortion guidelines to Executive colleagues last week, to criticise Mr Ford over his stance and accuse the Alliance leader of failing to contact him to discuss the matter first. “The speculative comments by David Ford is a clumsy attempt to cause confusion and unnecessary concern,” said Mr Poots. “He should immediately desist from this approach.”

“As Health Minister, let me be clear the best place for vulnerable woman and unborn children in life-threatening circumstances, both physically and mentally, is in a hospital within the NHS where the ability to pay for care has no place. Nobody with any semblance of moral fibre would argue otherwise.”

The row between two of the Executive’s most high-profile Ministers over the issue followed a visit to Stormont last week by a cross-Border, cross-party group which is lobbying in favour of the amendment.

Set down by Alban Maginness, the SDLP justice spokesman, and the DUP’s Paul Givan who chairs the Stormont justice committee, the proposal would prevent abortion provision outside the NHS.

Last year a Marie Stopes private clinic which offers medical abortion within the statutory nine-week limit, opened in Belfast city centre. “[Tomorrow’s] vote is a simple choice between putting the interests of mother and children first by providing the best healthcare free at the point of need within the NHS; or supporting unregulated and unaccountable private clinics, which actively campaign for abortion on demand, making financial gain from human tragedy,” Mr Poots said.

Proposals
The Minister for Health’s circulated proposals on abortion are understood to contain a requirement for two doctors to approve the procedure and that a consultant psychiatrist’s opinion be sought in cases where a mental health assessment is called for.

A group pressing for more liberal abortion provision has claimed in an open letter that 100 signatories have illegally procured a medical abortion for themselves or others in Northern Ireland.

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