Northern Ireland news

British government responds to abortion law reform in Northern Ireland

Campaigners Sarah Ewart (left) and Grainne Teggart, in Belfast, during the House of Commons vote for legislation which could liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

A BRITISH government report on abortion law in Northern Ireland has stressed its "absolute priority" to restore powersharing - ahead of terminations being legalised if Stormont does not return before the end of the year.

The Women and Equalities Committee yesterday published the Westminster response following last month's landmark vote by MPs and peers to liberalise existing laws, where abortion is only legal in extreme circumstances.

Unless a power-sharing assembly returns by October 21, terminations up to 24 weeks will be decriminalised the following day.

For the first time, abortion will be regulated and the threat of prosecution lifted.

The government response noted that recommendations of the House of Commons vote will have to come into effect "on or before 31 March 2020", with a 12-week consultation on how any new system will operate due to begin in the autumn.

"The Government's absolute priority is to re-establish devolved Government in Northern Ireland at the earliest opportunity. A new process of political talks involving all the main parties was announced on 26 April 2019 and is now under way," a statement from the Women and Equalities Committee said.

It added: "The UK Government will also work with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Civil Service to respond by 21 September 2019 to the CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) committee's request for an update on steps taken by the UK to implement the CEDAW inquiry's recommendations."

Last month, The Irish News reported that abortion guidance will be issued to medical staff if terminations are legalised.

The controversial move will see the biggest social change in Northern Ireland for decades, with anti-abortion groups and some politicians criticising Westminster 'interference'.

Campaigners including Sarah Ewart, a Belfast woman who was forced to travel to England for an abortion following a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, and Amnesty International, have welcomed the intervention.

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