Pro-lifers have blasted an abortion conference currently taking place in Northern Ireland – a province where abortion is illegal in almost every circumstance.
The controversial event, co-hosted by pro-abortion group, the Family Planning Association (FPA) and their counterparts from the Republic of Ireland, is the first ever abortion conference to be held in the province.
Pro-life groups and a prominent MLA have accused the FPA of conducting a campaign to legalise abortion.
South Down MLA Jim Wells said he was concerned that taxpayers’ money was being used to fund the event, and vowed to oppose any attempts to legalise abortion.
Mr Wells, who is chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Health Committee, said: “I am very concerned that this type of conference is being held in a part of the United Kingdom where abortion is illegal in almost every circumstance”.
“Fortunately the 1967 abortion act which has led to the deaths of almost seven million unborn children in Great Britain has never been extended to Northern Ireland and the overwhelming majority of MLAs – including myself – are totally committed to ensuring that this remains the situation,” he added.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) urged health minister Michael McGimpsey to stop giving public funding to the FPA.
Liam Gibson from SPUC warned: “This conference is not merely part of the FPA’s campaign to overturn legal restrictions on abortion in Northern Ireland, it is principally intended to instruct doctors here in the actual procedures used to kill children before they are born”.
Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, apart from when the mother’s life is at risk. The Northern Ireland health department is currently drawing-up guidance for doctors on abortion law and clinical practice.
Mr Gibson said it was “outrageous that abortion providers, such as the FPA, should disregard the consultation process by promoting abortion practices which are incompatible with the law in Northern Ireland”.
A spokesperson for the department of health dismissed funding concerns, saying “no departmental funding is being used to support this event”.
And Audrey Simpson from the FPA refuted claims that the conference was aimed at supporting the legalisation of abortion.
“This conference has not been organised to promote the introduction of abortion to Northern Ireland,” said Mrs Simpson.
The conference is being held at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, County Down.
In July pro-lifers won a significant victory in Northern Ireland with the withdrawal of controversial abortion guidelines.
The guidance said doctors were allowed to perform abortions if there is a risk of real, long-term or permanent damage to the mother’s mental health.
But SPUC said this made the guidance “so fatally flawed that it will lead to the situation where no abortion in Northern Ireland would be considered impermissible.”
SPUC was set to have a judicial review on the issue in September but the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety removed its interim guidance completely in July.
After a long-running legal battle over the issue, Liam Gibson, from SPUC in Northern Ireland, said the group was “very pleased” with the outcome.