Theresa May facing calls for abortion reform in NI

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Pro-choice campaigners hold up signs calling for the liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
AFP/.

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Attention has turned to NI after the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelming in favour of overturning the country’s abortion ban

A number of senior Conservative MPs have called for NI’s abortion law to be reformed after a historic referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of Westminster’s health committee, said women in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as other UK residents.

Northern Ireland’s abortion law is more restrictive than the rest of the UK.

Downing Street is understood to believe that any reform “is an issue for Northern Ireland”.

Prime Minister Theresa May is facing pressure to act after Ireland voted to end its abortion ban in Friday’s referendum.

But a Downing Street source said it showed “one of the important reasons we need a functioning executive back up and running”.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government collapsed almost 18 months ago.

Mrs May tweeted on Sunday: “The Irish Referendum yesterday was an impressive show of democracy which delivered a clear and unambiguous result. I congratulate the Irish people on their decision and all of #Together4Yes on their successful campaign.” – PM @theresa_may #repealedthe8th”

Northern Ireland’s abortion rules

Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which an abortion can be performed legally.

A fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis means doctors believe an unborn child has a terminal condition and will die in the womb or shortly after birth.

However, anti-abortion campaigners argue that doctors cannot accurately predict death, saying that terminally-ill babies “can and do defy the odds”.

There is no restriction on travelling outside Northern Ireland to seek a legal termination in another jurisdiction.

Last year, the Westminster government introduced measures to help women from Northern Ireland access free NHS abortions in England.

  • Why are Northern Ireland’s abortion laws different?

Speaking on the BBC’s Pienaar’s Politics programme, Dr Wollaston called for a referendum on the issue in Northern Ireland.

“I think it would show the level of support there is for this, and make the case for the Northern Ireland Assembly when it is reconvened – and I really hope they get on with that – that they should legislate to bring these rights in line across the whole of the United Kingdom.”

The Women and Equalities minister Penny Mordaunt, and her predecessors Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan and Maria Miller, have also called for reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

Education Minister Anne Milton said that MPs should have a free vote on the issue.

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