Political news

Former ministers don't support calls to publish abortion report

 Former Stormont ministers Claire Sugden and Michelle O'Neill
Brendan Hughes

THE former health and justice ministers don't support calls for Stormont civil servants to publish a high-profile report completed almost a year ago on Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

Ex-justice minister Claire Sudgen said it should not be released "while the opportunity still exists" to form a new executive.

Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill was health minister when the report was commissioned, but the party said it should be considered "in the event of the executive being restored".

It follows calls from campaigners for its publication after Stormont officials recently chose to release other documents without executive approval.

The report examined fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) issues and is understood to recommend legislative change.

Stormont officials have said it should not be published "until it has been considered by the executive".

Last week the Department of Education published a long-delayed report on LGBT pupils' experiences at school without ministerial sign-off.

The abortion report was produced by an inter-departmental working group set up by the health and justice ministers.

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.

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

Amnesty International's Grainne Teggart said it is "essential that vital reports with significant public interest and importance like this one are made known".

However, independent unionist Ms Sudgen warned that publishing the report could be "jeopardising ongoing work".

"Without context and without people considering it in a thoughtful way sometimes these things can be misunderstood. It's a contentious issue," she said.

"While the opportunity still exists for an executive to be up and running I don't think civil servants should be making decisions where they are not critical."

But the East Derry MLA added: "If the reality is that there is no executive, perhaps it's something we should consider publishing."

Sinn Féin said it believes there is a "need for new legislation to provide support for women in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, sexual crime and where the woman's life is at risk".

It added: "The fatal foetal abnormality report was under active consideration by the former health minister Michelle O'Neill and former justice minister Claire Sugden before the collapse of the executive.

"It is our view that in the event of the executive being restored that the incoming health and justice ministers should consider the report and bring forward recommendations to the executive."

A spokeswoman for the justice and health departments said: "It remains the departments' view that future health and justice ministers should have an opportunity to consider the report, and make recommendations to a future executive, before it is released to the public."

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