A DUP member whose daughter could not survive outside the womb has made an impassioned plea for his party – and others – to urgently act to change the abortion laws.
Speaking out after Peter Robinson indicated that his party would block a bill to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, Michael Cameron said there was a pressing need for a new law.
Mr Cameron, who is the husband of DUP MLA Pam Cameron and a member of the party in South Antrim, contacted the News Letter yesterday to tell his daughter’s story.
Writing in today’s paper, Mr Cameron said that many politicians “have taken the electorate for granted just once too often” – while another parent gave an emotional account of why she feels the law should not be changed.
But he added: “I know however that some do care and do listen and I urge them to once and for all stop governing this place as if it were some kind of religious sect.
“Please, act immediately and listen to those professionals who have told you honestly and plainly that the current guidelines aren’t good enough and no matter how many times they are revised, will be open to abuse.”
The DUP member’s highly unusual intervention comes near the end of a general election campaign which in Northern Ireland has been dominated by moral and ethical debates.
On Thursday night the first minister suggested that new abortion guidelines could allow for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, a claim which Justice Minister David Ford dismissed as “complete nonsense”.
Mr Ford accused Mr Robinson of “a complete U-turn” after the DUP leader indicated that his party would block Mr Ford’s bill to allow for a very limited increase in the areas in which it is legal to have abortion in Northern Ireland.
Just last week, Mr Robinson had suggested to the News Letter that his MLAs would be given a free vote on the issue – a highly symbolic decision which would have meant that for the first time in its history the DUP would not have taken a stance on a proposal to increase access to abortion, albeit in very tightly-controlled circumstances.
Mr Robinson’s logic for the suggested free vote – that it would be “odd” to press for a conscience clause bill while denying DUP members the ability to exercise their consciences – led some party members to believe that the party was moving away from taking stances on some moral debates which for many people have defined the DUP.
But, in a televised interview with The View, Mr Robinson said that the DUP’s Assembly group had decided that issuing guidelines would be “a better way forward” than bringing forward legislation.
“There are draft guidelines that are working their way through,” he said.
“I expect within the next week or so we will have a draft of them at the Executive and hopefully ministers can look at a better way through guidelines.”
Referring to Mr Ford’s proposed legislative proposals, he said: “I think they’re doomed.”
But the Alliance leader told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster: “It was a complete U-turn from the position that had been previously adopted by Peter Robinson and other members of the DUP when they talked about allowing a free vote on the legislation.
“To suggest that guidelines can solve this issue is complete nonsense – guidelines explain the law as it currently stands, and these guidelines have been floating around since 2009 with various legal challenges.”
Two weeks ago the then health minister, Jim Wells, told the News Letter that he did not believe Mr Ford’s bill would ever become law.
He said that a petition of concern could be used to kill the bill and said that even in the absence of such a move it would be“extremely challenging to get this through in less than 11 months” before the current Assembly term ends.
On Wednesday, the Christian Caleb Foundation – which counts several senior DUP figures among its membership – issued a statement which urged voters to “ask [politicians] to spell out in detail precisely where they – and their parties – stand on key areas such as same-sex marriage and reform of the law on abortion. There can be no room for compromise on these matters. The time has come for Christian politicians to stand up and be counted.”