NI abortion: Former GAA captain could vote DUP over changes to law

By Enda McClafferty
BBC News NI Political Correspondent

Image caption,
Lisa O'Hare captained the Tyrone ladies team to Ulster final glory in 2000

A former captain of the Tyrone GAA ladies team has said she is considering voting for the DUP because of the party's anti-abortion stance.

Lisa O'Hare said she can no longer vote for Sinn Féin or the SDLP because she does not agree with their stance on changes to NI's abortion laws.

Legislation brought in by MPs at Westminster means abortion will be decriminalised.

"As an Irish Catholic who places God at the centre of my home and my heart we don't have anyone who represents our views," said Ms O'Hare.

That is why she is now looking "beyond the normal tribal differences and religious differences".

She told the BBC's The View programme that "the DUP is the only party" in Stormont who seem to be opposing these laws.

She has voted for the DUP in the past.

Mrs O'Hare, who captained the Tyrone ladies team to Ulster final glory in 2000, said she has grave concerns about changes voted through at Westminster.

Image source, Getty Images

"We've seen from the guidelines published this week that this is about targeting the most vulnerable in society," she said

"As the mother of a son with Down's Syndrome, the idea that he has been set apart as someone who is less valuable to society is abhorrent to me.

"Every life is precious and shouldn't be judged on health, well being or social circumstance," she added.

Mrs O'Hare also urged the DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin Vice-President Michelle O'Neil to come together to block the changes.

'Won't be a criminal anymore'

Meanwhile, a woman from Londonderry who travelled to England for an abortion said the changes to the law will mean she will no long be regarded as a "criminal".

Jacqui Ward was 32 when she had the abortion in Birmingham.

At the time, she said her life was "grim" as she battled an alcohol addiction and that she was in "no fit state to care for another child".

Image caption,
Jacqui Ward criticised Sinn Féin and the SDLP for not being more open in their support.

She had a two-year-old daughter at the time.

"It was a tough decision to make and I didn't make it easily but I did it and stand by doing it," she said.

She added: "People who call us names don't have to live with that decision, they have no idea what its like and they have no right to tell me what to do with my body, it is my choice."

"Come 21 October I won't be a criminal anymore," she added.

Positions are clear

Ms Ward also criticised Sinn Féin and the SDLP for not being more open in their support.

"They are afraid to let down their grass roots support," she said

"Both parties may well agree with it in private but in public I haven't seen them come out and support us and say you are not a criminal.

"They need to make that clear but the fact there is an election coming up means they won't make that clear as they are afraid to lose votes."

Image caption,
Both an anti-abortion rally (left) and pro-choice rally attracted large crowds in Belfast city centre in September

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have said their positions are clear.

The SDLP said it is a "pro-life party" but their politicians are free to vote with their conscience.

Sinn Féin said it supports abortion in limited circumstances when there is a risk to the mother's health and in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) - where medics believe that a baby will die before, during or shortly after birth .

Their support only allows for abortion within a "limited gestational period".

Human rights breach

The case was taken in Belfast by Sarah Ewart, who challenged the law after she was denied a termination in 2013.

Doctors said her fetus would not survive outside the womb.

She travelled to England for a termination. Since then she has led a high-profile campaign to change Northern Ireland's law in cases of fatal fetal abnormality.

There have been both pro-choice and anti-abortion rallies held in Northern Ireland since MPs voted for legislation which requires the government to liberalise abortion and extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored by 21 October.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
A silent demonstration was held at Stormont over the planned change in abortion legislation

What are the current rules on abortion in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland's abortion legislation is very different from the law in Great Britain.

The 1967 Abortion Act, which was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales, was never extended to Northern Ireland.

Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Rape, incest or diagnoses of FFA are not grounds for a legal abortion in Northern Ireland.

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