NI abortion law: Ford surprised at Robinson comments

Justice minister David Ford has expressed surprise that First Minister Peter Robinson said his recommendation to change the abortion law on fatal foetal abnormality cases was doomed.

Mr Robinson said proposed draft guidelines offered a better way forward than legislation.

Mr Ford said last month he would ask the executive to approve legislation for abortion in such cases.

He said Mr Robinson had made "a complete U-turn".

Consultation

The issue of fatal foetal abnormality has been examined by health and justice officials over the past 18 months, following a high-profile case featured on the BBC's Nolan Show.

Mr Ford had put forward his plan for legislation in such cases following consultation on reforming Northern Ireland's abortion law.

However, on Thursday night Mr Robinson told the BBC that draft guidelines to be published soon would be a better way to move forward.

"There are draft guidelines that are working their way through," he told the View.

"I expect within the next week or so we will have a draft of them at the executive and hopefully ministers can look at a better way through guidelines."

Many obstetricians say a law would offer a mother and themselves better protections. They also say guidelines could work if they were to offer choice, protection and involved clinicians in the decision-making process.

At present, women who have become pregnant as the result of rape, or who are told they are carrying a child that is too ill to survive, are not entitled to a legal abortion in Northern Ireland.

'Dreadful circumstances'

Mr Ford said a change in the law was the only way to resolve the issue so that women in such "dreadful circumstances" could have a termination in Northern Ireland "in a way that I believe a compassionate society should provide".

"It was a complete U-turn from the position that had been previously adopted by Peter Robinson and other members of the DUP when they talked about allowing a free vote on the legislation," he told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster.

"To suggest that guidelines can solve this issue is complete nonsense - guidelines explain the law as it currently stands, and these guidelines have been floating around since 2009 with various legal challenges."

The issue of fatal foetal abnormality came to the fore when Northern Ireland woman Sarah Ewart contacted the Nolan Show to highlight the choice she faced - of either carrying her baby until it died in her womb or travelling to Great Britain where she could access a legal termination.

A year later, in October 2014, the Department of Justice began its consultation, where the public were asked to comment on amending the criminal law on abortion.

In April of this year, the justice committee heard there was substantial support for limited changes to the law, which should also include a conscience clause in the legislation to allow doctors and nurses to opt out of the termination procedure, but not in the woman's aftercare.

COMMENT from Bernadette Smyth: Justice Minister David Ford has falsely claimed there is a substantial body of support to make limited changes to the law on abortion. Yet over 25,140 voices cried out for the protection of our unborn children during this consultation peroid. This clearly proves the overwhelming, unyielding conviction of the people of Northern Ireland that every human being, born or unborn, must be protected in law, policy and practice. 25,140 voices put to shame the pathetic claim that the people in Northern Ireland support a change in the law.

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