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Stormont officials urged to publish abortion report

The report was on cases of fatal foetal abnormality was completed almost a year ago
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT civil servants have been urged to make public a report on the north's abortion laws after releasing other papers in the absence of an executive.

The report was commissioned to examine fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) issues and was completed almost a year ago.

It is understood to recommend a change in the law for FFA – cases when medics believe the unborn will die in the womb or shortly after birth.

Stormont officials have repeatedly refused to release the report, saying it should not be published "until it has been considered by the executive".

But questions have been raised after departments recently chose to release some key documents without ministerial sign-off.

Last week the Department of Education published a report into the experiences of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) pupils at school that had remained unpublished for almost 17 months.

It found two-thirds of LGBT young people do not feel welcome or valued in their post-primary school, and almost half had experienced bullying due to their sexuality or gender identity.

A spokeswoman said it was the department's "original view that the publication of the research should be cleared by a minister", but it decided to publish "in light of the increasing volume of enquiries".

She added that "presentational and layout issues" had delayed giving the minister the report until last December.

The abortion law report was produced by a six-member working group chaired by chief medical officer Michael McBride.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaign manager, said the organisation will write to both the health and justice departments' permanent secretaries to call for the report's publication.

"Given the current political vacuum, it is essential that vital reports with significant public interest and importance like this one are made known. Political stalemate must not prevent potential progress," she said.

Clare Bailey, Green Party MLA for South Belfast, said civil servants "can and should make the report public".

"The department has acknowledged that the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities is sensitive and controversial. I am in no doubt that this is why the department is reluctant to publish the report," she said.

"We know that the report recommends legislative change to modernise our archaic abortion legislation. The specifics and recommendations of the report must come to the fore to inform the policy discussion."

In response to Freedom of Information requests from The Irish News, the health department had earlier this year refused to publish the report.

It said: "This work was undertaken at the request of the then First Minister and the recommendations will require the agreement of the executive."

In a further response it said the report "should not be released until it has been considered by the executive".

It added: "Both the minister of health and minister of justice have stated that the release of the report will be considered after it has been before the executive."

In a joint statement, the health and justice departments said: "The Working Group on Fatal Foetal Abnormality report requires Northern Ireland Executive approval and has therefore not been released."

A spokesman for the Executive Office said: "The Executive Office has no involvement in the publication of the Working Group on Fatal Foetal Abnormality report established by the then health minister."

In Northern Ireland, abortion is only permitted if the mother's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

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