Report 'recommends abortion law change'

By Mark Devenport
BBC News NI Political Editor

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image captionA working group on the issue reported to the Stormont health and justice ministers on 11 October

A group set up to examine NI abortion law has recommended legislative change in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, Stormont sources have told the BBC.

The working group reported to ministers on 11 October, but its conclusions have not yet been published.

A fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) diagnosis means medics believe an unborn child will die either in the womb or shortly after birth.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuiness has called for MLAs to legislate for FFA cases.

Speaking after a British-Irish meeting in Wales last Friday, Martin McGuinness said he believed cases where there is no prospect of life were "challenging situations which need to be addressed".

The deputy first minister supported the right of any family told they have a fatal abnormality to have their child.

But he also backed the right of families unable to do that to access a termination.

image captionMartin McGuinness said he believed cases of fatal abnormality where there is no prospect of life are "challenging situations which need to be addressed"

Mr McGuinness said opinion polls had shown people in Northern Ireland are "very compassionate about how such situations should be dealt with".

'Bad law'

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has criticised the executive for its delay in publishing the report's recommendations.

First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed she had seen the paper from the working group, which was originally commissioned by the DUP's former health minister Simon Hamilton.

Mrs Foster recognised that "in a very small number of cases there are heartbreaking issues that have to be dealt with" and the executive needed to make appropriate provision for those matters.

However she added that there is "no point making bad law to deal with one or two circumstances", adding that law should be made after considering all the implications.

The first minister revealed she had already started the process of engaging with her own party about the conclusions of the working group's report and the evidence taken on the issue.

image copyrightPress Eye
image captionThe Stormont working group was chaired by Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride

Mrs Foster wouldn't confirm whether the working group had recommended a change in the law, but said she wanted to make sure that "women who find themselves in this very difficult circumstance have the care that they require".

However, a Stormont source has now told the BBC the working group does recommend a change in the law and, depending on the DUP's internal discussions, a paper is ready to go to the executive either in late December or early January.

The working group was chaired by Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride and consisted of six senior officials.

The issue of fatal foetal abnormality has been in the headlines since October 2013 when Belfast woman Sarah Ewart revealed the harrowing details of her journey to England to seek a termination.

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