Yesterday, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly voted in favour of abortion rights for the first time ever. They did so in defeating a Bill designed to restrict access to abortion. The Severe Foetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill, a private members’ bill brought forward by DUP MLA Christopher Stalford, sought to restrict access to abortion after 24 weeks’ gestation in cases where a non-fatal defect is detected in the foetus, regardless of its serverity or impact upon the quality of life. It was narrowly voted down by 45 votes to 43.
Speaking on the vote, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said it is ‘a significant day for trusting women… This is the first time the devolved legislature in Northern Ireland has voted clearly in favour of the woman’s right to choose, recognising pregnant women in conjunction with health professionals are the best people to determine whether and how to proceed with pregnancy.’
Abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland last year. The new legislation should have also led to the rollout of services. But disagreements between the five parties that make up the Executive meant that services have not been centrally commissioned by the Department of Health. Some individual health trusts have provided services. But without any dedicated funding for this, the result has been that many women in Northern Ireland have been left without the services to which they are legally entitled. In July, the UK Government used its powers to order the Northern Ireland Executive to commission abortion services, which is now expected to happen in the first half of 2022.
Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:
‘We are delighted that Stormont has for the first time voted in favour of recognising the right to choose. In doing so, it has recognised that when it comes to making the painful and difficult medical decisions surrounding abnormalities in pregnancy, it is for that individual and their doctor, not politicians in Stormont, to decide what is the right course of action.
‘This vote also highlights that there has been a seachange in attitudes towards abortion in Northern Ireland. The policy of delay and obstruction by anti-choice MLAs in Stormont is no longer sustainable.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07918 975795.
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