Northern Ireland news

Secretary of State Karen Bradley under pressure to maintain abortion restrictions in north

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has been urged to maintain restrictions on abortion in the north
By Michael McHugh and Michelle Devane

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has come under pressure from people born with serious conditions to maintain restrictions on abortion in Northern Ireland.

The appeal came as abortion services were introduced in the Republic yesterday following last year’s referendum.

Karen Bradley has received extensive and emotive correspondence about terminations since last spring when the Republic voted to legalise the procedure during early pregnancy.

Among the letter-writers was a successful businessman with cerebral palsy.

The movement disorder is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or shortly after birth.

He wrote: "I believe that if it is legalised for foetal abnormality this will open a flood-gate to them all, abortion on demand, and we will end up with staggering figures such as mainland Great Britain where, in 2016, 98 percent of abortions were for social reasons.

"I was born with cerebral palsy and while I do depend on others I make a big contribution to Northern Ireland as I am involved with many groups and sit (on) numerous trust panels.

"I employ four staff members and I'm actively involved in my community.

"I do pray that any decisions on this will be done with much wisdom."

The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.

Abortions are only permitted 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.

Campaigners are pressing for abortion to be legalised in Northern Ireland but that has prompted a backlash from letter-writers to the government, as disclosed in a freedom of information response.

One writer asked Mrs Bradley to confirm her status as a Christian.

"It would seem that the most vulnerable in our society, the unborn child, is not permitted human rights, that he/she is something like an in-growing toe nail, as one charming abortion activist described 'it', that can be removed as easily and with no more compunction,” the writer said.

Meanwhile, as of midnight on Tuesday terminations have become available free of charge by the Irish national health service, GPs and family planning services as well as hospitals across the country.

Health Minister Simon Harris said: "This is a very significant day for women's healthcare."

He described it as "momentous" that women in crisis pregnancy would no longer have to travel abroad to access services.

But he said it would take time to "fully evolve and fully embed" as it was a new service for the Irish health service.

The introduction of services follows a landmark referendum in May when some 66.4 percent of the electorate voted to repeal a controversial amendment in the Irish constitution that made abortion illegal, except under very limited circumstances.

The result paved the way for the easing of country's strict abortion laws.

 

Legislation providing for abortions up to 12 weeks without restriction was signed into law on December 20 by President Michael D Higgins.

Speaking ahead of the new services being implemented Mr Harris said about 80 percent of terminations were likely to take place in local communities and he was satisfied that the 165 GPs who signed up to provide the service was enough to meet demand.

As of Tuesday, nine hospitals will begin caring for patients seeking a termination.

A new pregnancy support website, staffed by counsellors and nurses, has also been set up to offer advice for those experiencing unplanned pregnancy.

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