Praise and opprobrium for local MLAs after vote on abortion

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Unionist and nationalist MLAs have been variously praised and criticised after their votes on whether or not to amend legislation to allow for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or sexual crime on Wednesday.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton and SDLP representatives, Colum Eastwood, Mark Durkan and Gerard Diver voted against legislative change to allow this to happen whilst Sinn Féin MLAs Raymond McCartney and Maeve McLaughlin voted to allow for terminations in these difficult cases.

Martin McGuinness, who will stand in the forthcoming elections as a candidate in Foyle, also voted in favour.

The amendment was voted down.

In a statement following the vote on Wednesday, the DUP said: “The issue of fatal foetal abnormality has proved a sensitive and controversial matter in Northern Ireland which requires proper consideration by the Executive and Assembly.

“We believe that this issue should best be dealt with in a measured way rather than in haste and without the benefit of appropriate scrutiny. Rushed law can often turn out to be bad law. Indeed we understand that the Attorney General has concerns about these amendments. This justice bill was not intended for this purpose.

“The party will therefore oppose the various amendments on this issue.”

The party proposed the establishment of a working group, including clinicians and legally qualified persons to make recommendations as to how the issue of fatal foetal abnormality can be addressed including, if necessary, draft legislation.

The DUP stated: “We would expect that they would consult with interested parties including those who have been affected.

“The panel will be asked to report within six months.

“I hope that other parties will be able to support this common sense approach.”

The Christian Institute welcomed the result of the vote.

Northern Ireland Officer Callum Webster said: “It is heartening that the majority of MLAs have voted to uphold the sanctity of life today at Stormont. “There has been a media campaign to undermine the legal protections afforded to our unborn children, but thankfully politicians have resisted that co-ordinated pressure.

“Abortion is not good healthcare for women. Instead we need to look at improving perinatal hospice care provision for babies with very limited life expectancies”.

But People Before Profit candidate for Foyle Eamonn McCann said voters who “believe that women should be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies and who were intending to vote SDLP” should vote for him and his fellow candidates across Northern Ireland.

He said: “The proposal on abortion which the SDLP and DUP voted down on Wednesday night was a narrow and restrictive measure.

“Yet a party which speaks of civil rights stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the DUP to prevent it.

“People Before Profit is putting forward a radical agenda for change in Foyle and in North and West Belfast, as well as all across the 26 counties. We will have upwards of 20 candidates in the field, uniting struggles for justice North and South.

“SDLP and DUP voters dismayed by their parties’ stance at Stormont on Wednesday should come over to the only party in Foyle offering a real alternative.”