Northern Ireland

David Ford criticises abortion amendment plan for justice bill

David Ford
Image caption David Ford said other elements of the criminal justice bill had been subjected to full consultation

David Ford has said it is "entirely inappropriate" for the DUP and SDLP to "tack on" an attempt to ban private health clinics offering abortions to his criminal justice bill.

The amendment to the bill will be debated and voted on in the assembly next Tuesday.

Sinn Fein has said it opposes the plan.

Mr Ford, Northern Ireland's justice minister, said the other elements of his bill had been subjected to full consultation.

"I think there is clearly an issue, which is entirely legitimate for the assembly to debate, about the regulation of private health care providers, including the Marie Stopes clinic, with the issue of abortion," he told BBC NI's Inside Politics programme.

"I think it is entirely inappropriate that that should be tacked on at the last minute to a criminal justice bill with no consultation, the kind of consultation which I had to do on every other aspect of the bill is completely ignored by this last-minute amendment."

Earlier on Friday, campaigners and politicians from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic gathered at Stormont to oppose any change to abortion laws on the island of Ireland.

The gathering was sponsored by the DUP and SDLP.

It included DUP MP Ian Paisley, former MEP Rosemary Dana Scallon, and Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh.

Mr Paisley urged Sinn Fein to rethink its opposition to the DUP, SDLP amendment that would prevent private clinics in Northern Ireland from carrying out abortions.

Mr Paisley said a Catholic priest from west Belfast had approached him to express concern about the issue.

Bernie Kelly from Precious Life, which campaigns against abortion, said her organisation had launched a Facebook campaign challenging Sinn Fein's attitude.

Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane has said the planned amendment by the DUP's Paul Givan and the SDLP's Alban Maginness is an attempt to restrict a woman's right to obtain a termination in life-threatening circumstances.

Sinn Fein has not said if it will attempt to block the change.

Mr Givan and Mr Maginness unveiled a joint amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill on Wednesday.

They said they were confident it would win sufficient support to be passed into law in Northern Ireland this year.

They said they were closing a loophole in the law.

The plan to amend the law follows the opening of a private abortion and family planning clinic in Belfast last autumn.

Marie Stopes International has said it operates within the current law in Northern Ireland, which is different from the rest of the UK as it only allows for abortion when the mother's physical or mental health is in danger.

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