Sinn Fein and the DUP have rejected a motion put forward by Belfast City Council expressing support for legislation on abortion and same-sex marriage. The news comes after disagreements between councillors on Monday night regarding plans to change Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.
The Northern Irish abortion laws are set to be liberalised if a power-sharing assembly is not reinstated by October 21, and if this were to happen new regulations would be in place by March 2020. As it stands, abortion is only permitted under very limited circumstances in Northern Ireland, while in the Republic it is available for up to 12 weeks since the passing of the referendum.
The announcement comes after a July vote amongst MPs which also took into consideration the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the North.
The DUP’s Brian Kingston initially put forward the motion that the council should write to Julian Smith, the Secretary of State, in order to state their opposition to the imposition of changes to abortion law by Westminster. Unsurprisingly, with the DUPs anti-abortion stance, Kingston described the vote as “an abuse of parliamentary procedure” and claimed that the legislation “should reflect local conscience on the matter”.
While Kingston’s motion was defeated, Aine Groogan, a Green party councillor, suggested the council should write to the secretary to; “express our strong support for both abortion and equal marriage legislation”, stating that; “Abortion is healthcare. It is not a crime.”
Groogan went on to praise the Westminster decision saying; “The absence of a functioning assembly has led to the situation where Westminster has taken the brave decision to legislate to ensure our laws are human rights compliant and that people in Northern Ireland have the same rights as those elsewhere in the UK.”
However, this amendment was later defeated as both the DUP and Sinn Fein voted against it, with Sinn Fein proposing its own amendment asking for the re-establishment of the motion “on the basis of rights and equality and provide modern healthcare for women including terminations where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime”.
Claire Canavan, a Sinn Fein Councillor, also put forward her own amendment stating that the current abortion legislation is in “an urgent need for reform” as it is currently “incompatible with human rights requirements”. She claimed the party supported the decriminalisation of abortion and elected that it should be the assembly and not Westminster who should decide on key issues such as abortion, however her amendment was also defeated.
This comes after High Court judge Mrs Justice Keegan ruled “Northern Ireland’s strict abortion regime is incompatible with human rights legislation” with Keegan identifying a breach in the prohibition on terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. This was accompanied by Belfast woman Sarah Ewart’s own personal testimony detailing her experience after being denied a lawful abortion in Northern Ireland of her unborn child with no chance of survival.
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