New proposed abortion guidelines for healthcare staff in Northern Ireland are being considered by the Stormont Executive, the Health Minister has said.
Confirmation from Simon Hamilton that long-awaited guidance has now been circulated among his Executive colleagues came 24 hours after a High Court judge ruled that aspects of the region’s abortion legislation breached human rights laws.
The landmark judgment could see a relaxation of the strict laws prohibiting women accessing terminations in cases of rape, incest or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.
The high profile case was brought in Belfast High Court by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).
The region’s Attorney General John Larkin is currently considering grounds for a potential appeal.
Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland where abortions are illegal except in very limited circumstances where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.
Successive Stormont health ministers have tried to address uncertainty over the legislation by drawing up guidance for healthcare professionals working with expectant mothers.
But the attempts have been dogged by controversy, with a number of court challenges to previous guidelines.
Pro-choice campaigners insist revised guidelines cannot take the place of a change in the law.
Pro-life campaigners believe there should be no relaxation of the legislation.
The new healthcare guidelines will only be issued if they are approved by the Stormont Executive.
A spokeswoman for Mr Hamilton’s department said: “Revised guidance has been prepared by the Termination of Pregnancy Working Group. Executive approval is required and the Minister hopes this can be achieved shortly.”