Calls for the reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws have been strengthened by the resignation of a leading paediatric pathologist, a former justice minister has said.
Alliance MLA David Ford was speaking after the resignation of Dr Caroline Gannon, who stood down after claiming the abortion laws here forced her to advise a couple to bring the remains of their aborted child home from England in a picnic cooler bag for a post-mortem.
Dr Gannon, speaking to the BBC, also pointed to the interventions of Northern Ireland’s attorney general in regard to abortion in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities as a factor in her resignation.
Mr Ford said the resignation is “a clear demonstration that the law must be changed”.
He said he was not calling for “abortion on demand” but said the law should be changed to “allow abortion where two doctors make a clear diagnosis there is no possibility of a viable life”.
First Minister Arlene Foster, however, said she was awaiting the findings of a ‘working group’ set up to examine the laws on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
The working group was set up when the Assembly voted against allowing women to terminate pregnancies in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
The Attorney General John Larkin said the law on abortion in cases of what he described as “so-called fatal foetal abnormality” is “currently under consideration by the Court of Appeal”.
Abortion is currently against the law in Northern Ireland except in cases where there is a threat to the mother’s health.
Outlining her reasons for resigning, Dr Gannon cited the case of a couple who wanted a post-mortem examination to be carried out to discover the cause of their baby’s fatal foetal abnormality.
The couple travelled to England for the abortion and had to transport the remains home for post-mortem in a cooler bag with ice packs, the pathologist said.
“They were on their own and they had to organise that themselves and transport their own baby’s body back in a picnic cooler in the boot of the car on the overnight ferry,” she said.
“I just cannot work in this particular system. I find it very difficult and I cannot reconcile the legal system I am having to operate under with my own personal ethical beliefs.”
Mr Ford said: “The fact Dr Gannon now feels she cannot carry out her duties to her patients is a clear demonstration the law must be changed.
“I do not wish to see so-called ‘abortion on demand’, but I do believe the law should allow compassion to women faced with a dreadful diagnosis who feel they cannot carry a foetus to full term.”
Mrs Foster said: “We do understand these are very, very sensitive issues in and around the whole issue of fatal foetal abnormality.
“We are taking all of our responsibilities very seriously and that’s why we are waiting on this information coming forward (from the working group).”