Over the years, one of the most emotive issues for people in Northern Ireland has been how we legislate for abortion.
Although this remains the case for many, recent public opinion surveys suggest that there may be a growing body which wishes to see at least some adjustment to our laws.
In October, I launched a consultation on the law on abortion as it applies to a small number of women in two very specific circumstances.
Firstly, to enable terminations to be offered to women who have been told that the baby they are carrying has a lethal abnormality, which will mean there is no prospect of survival after birth, and, secondly, to women who have become pregnant as a result of a sexual crime.
The public consultation closes on 17 January. Before that date, I want to remind everyone about what exactly we are proposing and, perhaps more importantly, what we are not proposing, as there seems to be a degree of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding this issue.
Let me be clear — any change to the law that may happen as a result of this consultation will not bring in the provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act which applies in the rest of the UK. The changes proposed or discussed in the consultation paper are not about the wider debate on whether abortion should, or should not, be available as a choice for women to make, whatever the circumstances.
The key issue here is a proposal to introduce a small legislative change to enable individual women who wish to terminate a pregnancy when there is no hope of any independent life, to make that choice freely and openly, without any criminal barriers, and without the need to travel to England or elsewhere.
The professional opinion of two doctors that there is an abnormality which is incompatible with life, and for which there could be no medical intervention, will be required before a termination would become an option.
I have also asked people to consider whether to change to the law to provide a similar option for those women who find themselves pregnant as a result of sexual crime. I want to obtain the views of the public on whether the law should accommodate such a change.
The overall law in all other circumstances will not change. It will still be illegal to perform an abortion in Northern Ireland except, as is the case now, where continuing with the pregnancy would result in a risk to the life of the mother, or to her physical or mental health which is likely to be either long term or permanent.
It is my view that the choice of a termination in the circumstances of lethal foetal abnormality should be available as a statutory right. I also wish to consider how cases of sexual crime might be included in any legislative change.
I know that there are deeply held personal views on abortion and I understand and respect those views. However, as Justice Minister, my focus is to see how we, as a society, can respond, with empathy, fairness and respect, to the individual needs of women faced with these hugely difficult, and often traumatic, circumstances and who know themselves how best their needs can be met at such times.
It is about offering an option for those who need and want it, no more. Any woman who wishes to continue to delivery must have that right, and full medical care.
The consultation closes on 17 January and I would urge anyone who has not already done so to respond on these two important issues.
• David Ford MLA is Justice Minister