N. Ireland Politics

Abortion: Minister confirms working group to examine issue has not been established

Michelle O'Neill
Image caption Ms O'Neill told MLAs that the terms of reference for the group had been drafted but "have not been formally signed off"

The health minister Michelle O'Neill has confirmed that the working group proposed to deal with the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland has not been officially established.

It was due to be set up in February.

Responding to a question from the UUP leader, Mike Nesbitt, Ms O'Neill told MLAs that the terms of reference for the group had been drafted but "have not been formally signed off".

She said this meant consequently that the group has not yet met.

The group was proposed in February when First Minister Arlene Foster asked then health minister Simon Hamilton to set up a working group to look at how the issue of fatal foetal abnormality could be addressed.

It was initially due to report back by the end of June.

The minister told the Assembly she was giving the matter "careful consideration", adding: "I am meeting the justice minister in the next number of weeks and I intend to discuss how we take the issue forward."

The minister also said she was meeting Sarah Ewart, who brought the issue of fatal foetal abnormality to the public's attention after her own personal experience of abortion..

On Monday, an appeal began against a High Court ruling that abortion law in Northern Ireland is "incompatible" with human rights law.

The appeal has been taken by the Department of Justice and Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin.

In December, a judge ruled the law did not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or sexual crime.

Image caption The justice department believes the ruling by the High Court could lead to a widening of the abortion law in Northern Ireland

That case was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

However, the justice department believes the ruling by the High Court could lead to a widening of the abortion law.

The current abortion legislation differs from the rest of the UK as the Abortion Act 1967 was never extended to Northern Ireland.

Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk, or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

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