NI Assembly fails in bid to change abortion law

Stormont The amendment had a straight majority but failed to gain sufficient cross-community support

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An assembly amendment which would have banned abortions being performed by private clinics has failed to win sufficient cross-community support.

The amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill was jointly proposed by two DUP and SDLP MLAs.

If passed it would have prevented clinics like Marie Stopes from carrying out abortions in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein, however, joined by two MLAs from Alliance and the Green Party, managed to block the move.

The parties put forward a petition of concern which meant that, although a majority of MLAs voted for the amendment, it still did not have sufficient cross-community backing.

After a lengthy and at times ill tempered debate, 53 MLAs backed the ban on private clinics, more than the 40 politicians who voted against.

Condemned

That straight majority, however, did not count, because the amendment did not win enough support from nationalist MLAs.

The DUP condemned the move.

The breakdown of the vote was 44 unionists and 9 nationalists for the abortion amendment, while 26 nationalists, five unionists and 9 others voted against.

The UUP allowed a free vote on the amendment with Mike Nesbitt, Michael Copeland, Danny Kinahan and Sandra Overend voting against.

Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane had put forward the petition of concern, supported by Alliance Party MLA Anna Lo, and Green Party MLA Stephen Agnew.

She said her party was not in favour of abortion but believed that the option of termination should be available in the case of rape, sexual abuse or incest, or where a pregnant woman's life was in danger.

Restricted

The amendment was tabled by the DUP's Paul Givan, who chairs the justice committee, and the SDLP's Alban Maginness.

They argued abortions should be restricted to the NHS, which is robustly regulated.

One of the amendment's proposers, Mr Givan, said he "regretted" the tactics deployed by Sinn Fein and how the outcome of the vote had "shamefully been pre-determined".

Anti-abortion group Precious Life presented 250,000, what it called 'petitions of concern for unborn babies,' to the assembly on Tuesday.

On Monday, it was revealed that 100 people had signed an open letter admitting that they have broken Northern Ireland law by taking illegally-procured abortion medication, or have helped others to procure it.

The signatories said that the attempt to change the law was to effectively close down the recently opened Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast - the first private clinic to offer legal abortions in Northern Ireland - and was also an attempt to close down debate on abortion.

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