Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister has announced his plans to reform abortion laws in the region for the first time in seventy years.

Minister David Ford has proposed that abortion be available in the event of a foetus suffering from a fatal abnormality meaning that they could not survive outside the womb. The proposal marks a significant moment for abortion law reform in the region, which is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply.

The politician, who leads the cross community Alliance Party, opened a public consultation in January calling for members of the public to submit their views on whether terminations should be an option for victims of rape, incest and in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Addressing members of the parliament, Minister Ford said, “After full and careful consideration of the evidence submitted, I have concluded that to change the law… is the right thing to do.

“In the limited circumstances of a fetal abnormality which is likely to cause death either before birth, during birth or in an initial period after birth, and where no treatment other than palliative care could be offered to improve the chances of survival, my view is that the health and wellbeing of the woman must take priority and that the law should be clear and offer certainty.”

He continued, “I therefore intend to proceed to ask the Executive for its approval to bring forward legislation to the Assembly which would allow for termination of pregnancy in these tragic cases.” 

However, the department is not calling for terminations to be available to victims of rape or incest, as outlined in the consultation.

The Justice Department will now draft legislation on the amendment which will be presented to the Northern Irish devolved parliament, Stormont.

Amnesty International lobbyist Grainne Teggart welcomed the news. She told The Independent, “This is an important step in the right direction. As it stands, Northern Ireland isn’t meeting minimum human rights standards.”

She called on politicians to extend the proposals to women who have been victims of sexual crimes, saying, “To force a woman who has been a victim of a sexual crime to continue a pregnancy is inhumane.”

Bernadette Smyth, from Northern Irish pro-life lobby group Precious Life, told The Independent, “This is discriminating against the disabled community. [The minister] wants to destroy and take the lives of vulnerable children.”

She called on Minister Ford to stand down, “There is no appetite for change in the law here. David Ford does not act in the name of Northern Ireland. He should not continue in his position. We will be protesting outside his office to highlight and expose this.”

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