DUP leader Arlene Foster claims ‘unanimity’ at Stormont on reducing abortion time limits while campaigners debate outcome

Lobbyists are debating what time limits should be set on abortions in Northern Ireland after DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed there was broad agreement that the current position of 27 weeks was totally unacceptable.

An anti-abortion protestor walks with a cross at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
An anti-abortion protestor walks with a cross at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

The law in Northern Ireland changed on October 21 2019 to allow abortion after legislation was tabled in Westminster.

DUP leader Arlene Foster told ITV: “There is unanimity across the chamber in regard to the fact that currently we have a position were abortions are available up to 27 weeks, which is totally unacceptable.

“There will be some argument about where that should come back to. I think everybody in Northern Ireland recognises that that is not a sustainable position.”

In England abortion is currently legal up to 24 weeks if signed off by two doctors but pro-life campaigners say the current situation in NI before regulations have been drafted means that a pregnancy has no specific protection in law until a live birth is viable.

NI based UK director of the Evangelical Alliance Peter Lynas said that “sadly” the New Decade New Approach deal says nothing about abortion.

“We know this was raised in the talks,” he tweeted. “Most of the proposals in the consultation go way beyond what people here want. With the Assembly sitting they could reign these back in, but something in the deal would have been better.”

His colleague, NI director of the Evangelical Alliance David Smyth, added: “This is still a crucial window to influence the future care of vulnerable women, unborn children and their families. Ultimately, abortion remains a devolved issue and it is vital that the drastic proposals contained in the recent consultation by the NIO are not implemented.”

But pro-choice campaigner Goretti Horgan, Social policy lecturer at Ulster University said that it was “vital” that the new regulations for NI abortions are based on the best international evidence from expert organisations like the World Health Organisation, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives.

“From that point of view, it’s welcome that the regulations are being developed at Westminster,” she said. “This is because the Guidelines on abortion produced by Stormont administrations in the past have not been evidence-based and, therefore, were unhelpful to health professionals.

“Of course, religious groups have a right to their views but not to impose those views on the rest of us. We have seen in the Republic how unhelpful it is to have religious doctrine affecting health care.”

Sinn Féin said the Joint Oireachtas Committee findings were that it is “not possible” to legislate for abortion in the case of rape “in a compassionate way” and that abortions should therefore generally “be available as determined by law and licensing practice for a limited gestational period, informed by the best available medical advice through a GP led service”.