Northern Ireland

David Ford says NI abortion legislation must be consulted on

Pregnancy test
Image caption Thousands of women travel to other parts of the UK each year for a termination

Whether a woman should be allowed to have an abortion in situations where a baby has a foetal abnormality needs further consideration, Northern Ireland's justice minister says.

He was responding after two women, carrying babies with foetal abnormalities, went public with their stories.

Foetal abnormality is not a ground for abortion under Northern Ireland law.

David Ford wants a joint consultation with the Department of Health.

The women told their stories to the BBC's Nolan Show.

Sarah Ewart travelled to England for an abortion because her baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a severe brain abnormality.

Another woman, Laura, who is 22 weeks pregnant with twins who are suffering from the same condition, appealed to Health Minister Edwin Poots to allow her to have an abortion in Northern Ireland.

Mr Poots has offered to meet the pair and said the circumstances of the case were being "fully explored from a legal perspective".

Image caption Sarah Ewart travelled to England for an abortion

Mr Ford said he was committed to bringing a paper to the Northern Ireland Executive looking at issues around the termination of pregnancy.

The justice minister said the women's circumstances had highlighted whether adjustments were needed in the current legislation.

"There is a significant majority in Northern Ireland who recognise that the current abortion law does not deal with difficult issues like this and I believe that is something that needs to be addressed," he said.

"I have written to the minister of health suggesting it should be a joint consultation between our departments and also that we should be considering issues like abnormal foetal development."

Mr Ford said he was "quite convinced" that introducing the abortion legislation which applies to the rest of the UK would "not have public support in Northern Ireland".

"But marginal changes and, as I say, even specifically this issue of gross foetal abnormality, are issues which I do believe would see a majority wishing to change and which I do believe should be consulted on."

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