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Last Updated: Monday, 22 October 2007, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Assembly call over abortion guide
Abortion is strictly limited in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's health minister has been called on to drop guidelines on abortion issued by his department after a court case.

Assembly members backed a motion calling for them to be scrapped.

The draft guidelines were issued after a court case brought by the Family Planning Association which wanted clarity on the issue.

However, anti-abortion activists said the guidelines were a step towards abortion on demand.

The guidelines were proposed after the FPA took the Department of Health to court for a lack of clarity about the circumstances under which terminations in NI could be carried out.

Even though the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland, the draft guidelines say women may have abortions where the expectant mother's life is in danger or when there is a serious long-term threat to her mental or physical health.

However, anti-abortion campaigners believe they represent the first stage in an attempt to extend the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland.

After a number of MLAs attacked the guidelines during a debate, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey denied there were any plans to use the draft guidelines to liberalise abortion laws and extend the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland.

Describing the guidelines as a work in progress, the Ulster Unionist minister revealed further drafts would be drawn up next year for consultation.

"Let me be clear that there is no question of me bringing about a situation where abortion is available "on demand" in Northern Ireland," he said.

"It is important that members bear in mind the fact that abortion law, falls in the category of criminal law, and is a reserved matter.

"This is an issue for MPs and not this assembly. It is for Parliament at Westminster to legislate on - the Northern Ireland Assembly can only legislate on abortion law with the consent and approval of Secretary of State, Shaun Woodwood.

"During the passage of the Northern Ireland Act in 1998, the government gave assurances that there would be no change to abortion law here without the consent of the main parties."

He said in July NIO minister Paul Goggins said there were no plans to change the law in Northern Ireland.

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22 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland
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