Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice is recommending weakening abortion law in the Province, despite overwhelming opposition shown in its own consultation.
Justice Minister David Ford’s consultation, which ran from October 2014 to January 2015, asked for views on allowing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.
A press release on the Department of Justice website claims there is a “substantial body of support” for the changes.
But the vast majority of the 25,320 responses – including petition signatures, and letters from individuals and organisations – were against changing the law.
Just 0.7 per cent of responses were in favour.
Ford said he will ask for approval to bring forward a Bill to permit abortion for fatal foetal abnormality.
He said: “After full and careful consideration of the evidence submitted, I have concluded that to change the law along the lines outlined in the consultation paper is the right thing to do.”
He said he will not try to legalise abortion in cases of sexual crime.
In its response to the consultation results, the Department said, “more detail is needed” and that it will “consider further” how the law might be changed on this issue.
Ford also plans to introduce a conscience clause into the legislation, as there was a “clear body of opinion in favour”.
The proposals must be approved by the NI executive and voted for in the Assembly before becoming law.
MLAs spoke out against the plans during a meeting of the justice committee yesterday.
Committee chairman Alastair Ross questioned how Ford could claim there is “substantial support” for changing the abortion law, when it appeared “99 per cent of people” who took part in the consultation were opposed to any change.
And former Health Minister Edwin Poots said the Department has “chosen just to ignore the outcome” of its consultation.
“What was the point of a public consultation if you weren’t going to pay any attention whatsoever to what is being said here?” he asked.
The DoJ’s Amanda Patterson said that the 47 interested groups that favoured change represented a “broad swathe of interested opinion” and included medical bodies.
The consultation was previously criticised for attempting to exclude pro-life arguments, because the document on the plans stated that any responses addressing wider “pro-choice” or “pro-life” issues will not be considered.
The Christian Institute has highlighted a number of stories from people affected by the life and death decisions of abortion in its Choose Life series.
These included an account of Melanie and Damien Sheenan, who refused an abortion after doctors made what was later shown to be an incorrect diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.
And Bonnie and Phil Walker shared how they chose life for their daughter Grace, who was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality but lived for a precious 15 minutes.