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Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK
No change to abortion law
Assembly can only pass on advice to Westminster
The Northern Ireland Assembly has backed a motion opposing the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to the province.

It was passed by a majority of members in an oral vote on Tuesday.

An amendment from the Women's Coalition, calling for the issue to be referred to the assembly's health committee, was defeated by 43 votes to 15.

A motion against the extension was proposed by South Down Democratic Unionist Party MLA Jim Wells

Speaking on Monday, Mr Wells said: "I think most Catholics and Protestants find the idea of abortion morally wrong and abhorrent and do not want it to happen here in Ulster."

Jim Wells
Jim Wells: Proposed motion
Mr Wells said former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam had signalled she wanted to extend the 1967 Act to the province and while Peter Mandelson has not made any comment, the South Down MLA thought it was important the assembly put down an early marker.

He said: "There is a hint the government may want to update the 1967 Act in England and Wales and use that to take the opportunity to extend it to Northern Ireland.

"A heavy No vote in the assembly will make it very, very difficult for government to even start this process."

Mr Wells said there had been 5.9m terminations in Great Britain since 1967.

He said the number would have been much greater if terminations were available in the province.

"There are some abortions carried out in Northern Ireland for medical reasons and I am not seeking to prevent that."

The Progressive Unionist Party was the only party opposing the motion.

The assembly has no power to change the law. It could only be done at Westminster.

Post office cuts condemned

Tuesday's debate followed the unanimous endorsement by the assembly for a motion from East Londonderry SDLP member John Dallat, expressing concern at the Government's Postal Services Bill.

Assembly members called on the government to protect the network of nearly 650 rural post offices in Northern Ireland and said the Bill could have a devastating effect on rural communities.

The Postal Services Bill proposes a number of changes to the system throughout the UK including plans to convert the Post Office into a publicly owned company and to ensure that daily deliveries and collections from Monday to Saturday are guaranteed in law.

Although not contained in the proposed legislation, there is also concern over the government's plans to stop paying benefits through the network of sub post offices.

"The proposals could undermine economic prosperity and regeneration in rural areas," said Mr Dallat.

Sinn Fein Fermanagh/South Tyrone member Gerry McHugh said: "We need to protect the rural post office and its services.

"At a time when rural communities are reeling from the cumulative effect of the farming crisis, the under-development of infrastructure and no coherent economic planning the loss of this service will add to the break-up of those communities."

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See also:

20 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
NI Assembly debates abortion law
06 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
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05 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
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02 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
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