Northern Ireland

Abortion: NIO to launch campaign on abortion law

abortion Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A failure to restore devolution by 21 October will result in the immediate decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) is planning to launch an awareness campaign related to the likely change in the law on abortion.

NI law will change if the power-sharing executive at Stormont is not restored by 21 October.

The awareness campaign is expected to launch early next month.

A spokesman for the NIO confirmed awareness campaigns on laws affecting same-sex marriage and historical abuse victims would also be launched.

The abortion awareness campaign is expected to point women and healthcare professionals in Northern Ireland to where they can get accurate facts about the forthcoming changes.

The 1967 Abortion Act - which made terminations legal - was never extended to Northern Ireland.

Abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland in circumstances where continuing a pregnancy would mean there's a serious and permanent risk to a woman's health.

Under the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act, a failure to restore devolution by 21 October will result in the immediate decriminalisation of abortion.

Officials are then expected to launch a consultation on what kind of regulations the health service should follow in relation to terminations.

The regulations would be intended to bring Northern Ireland into line with an international convention on eliminating discrimination against women.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith is mandated to put regulations in place by 31 March 2020.

'A Northern Ireland solution'

The leaders of the four main Churches have called on Julian Smith to reconvene the assembly before the 21 October deadline.

They say this would allow the Stormont parties to find what they call "a Northern Ireland solution" for the challenging issues posed by abortion.

The clergymen expressed grave concern at what they described as the prospect of an "almost unregulated abortion regime" being imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.

In the Commons on Monday, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley raised his concerns about the pending change in abortion law and challenged the secretary of state to call a meeting of the assembly "tomorrow morning".

Mr Paisley claimed the only party which would not turn up would be Sinn Féin.

Image caption Religious leaders have called on Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith to act over forthcoming changes to NI abortion law

Mr Smith replied that "we all have to do everything we can to get things up and running in the coming weeks".

He said it was important, not just for the issue of abortion which, he believes, is best dealt with by the people of Northern Ireland, but it was also in the best interests of all citizens.

He also told MPs that he hoped to bring forward legislation enabling compensation to be paid to victims of historical institutional abuse "in the coming weeks".

He repeated his pledge to include a bill on abuse compensation in a forthcoming Queen's Speech.

However, challenged by the North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon to guarantee that the measure will be put into law by the end of October, Mr Smith said he would not make a commitment that he cannot keep.

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