Northern Ireland news

Politicians in Ireland and Britain to urge Northern Ireland abortion law reform

Members of the public at Dublin Castle in May following the results of the Republic's referendum on the Eighth Amendment
Brendan Hughes

A letter signed by politicians across Ireland and Britain is being organised to urge prime minister Theresa May and taoiseach Leo Varadkar to change Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws.

The cross-party and cross-nation letter is expected to be made public ahead of next week's British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) in London.

Dozens of signatures have been gathered from MPs, TDs, MEPs and members of the Seanad and House of Lords, with MLAs now also being asked to add their names.

A draft copy, seen by The Irish News, calls on Westminster to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by repealing old UK legislation.

The BIIGC should "agree a pathway forward" on ensuring that healthcare access for women in Northern Ireland complies with human rights, the letter adds.

It also urges both the British and Irish governments to "ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is upheld and the human rights of the women living in Northern Ireland are respected".

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

Debate on the north's abortion laws has gathered pace following the Republic's referendum in May, which saw voters decisively support repealing the eighth amendment to allow a liberalisation of abortion laws.

Last month a majority of Supreme Court judges also said the existing Northern Ireland law is incompatible with human rights legislation in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

However, the case was lost on a technicality as the court ruled the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission did not have the required legal standing to bring it.

The BIIGC on Wednesday is being convened for the first time in more than a decade amid the current political impasse over restoring Stormont.

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