Abortion plans include conscience clause for staff

Health care staff protected
Health care staff protected

Mr Ford’s abortion proposals contain a conscience clause for employees relating to participation in the procedure.

This would mean that if any health staff had a conscientious or religious objection to abortion, they would not have to directly participate.

Among consultation’s results was the emergence of a “clear body of opinion in favour of a clause to allow for conscientious objection”.

However, the Department of Justice said that it expects this would not apply “where there is a risk to the life of the woman or of injury to her physical or mental health which is likely to be either long term or permanent”.

A judgment had been handed down in the Supreme Court in December – during the period when Mr Ford’s consultation was running – stating that the right not to take part in abortion applies only to the direct procedure itself, not to other work.

This recent consultation into changing the law followed a major news story which had thrust the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities into the public spotlight.

In October 2013, Northern Irish mother Sarah Ewart had spoken out about having been forced to travel to England for an abortion, after her unborn baby was diagnosed with anencephaly; a brain anomaly which meant its skull had not developed properly.

The Department of Justice paper published on Thursdsay acknowledges that doctors cannot predict accurately how long such a baby could survive.

It notes that there had been 27 babies with anencephaly who had been born alive between 2003 to 2013, and that all of them had died within a month – with 22 having died within a single day.

While it remains unclear when the next step for Mr Ford’s proposed law will be, it is not the only possible change afoot.

The Department of Health is expected to issue some new guidelines within the next few weeks for staff who deal with abortion cases.

Also, a judicial review into the Province’s tight abortion laws at large is still underway, having been launched by the Human Rights Commission in February.