Mid Ulster politicians split down the middle on abortion amendments vote

Stormont voted down changes to the Justice Bill in relation to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities or rape
Stormont voted down changes to the Justice Bill in relation to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities or rape

Despite the fact amendments to the Justice Bill to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest failed, local politicians were divided on the issue.

Current laws on abortion were ruled incompatible with human rights at Belfast High Court in November, but after MLAs spent many hours debating the issue at the assembly, nothing has changed.

The Assembly voted 59 to 40 against changing current legislation, with all DUP and SDLP members opposing the move, but those representing the Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt areas were divided down the middle.

Voting as a party, local Sinn Fein MLAs said they supported the Alliance and Green Party’s amendments out of compassion.

“Justice Horner has stated that as it stands the law is not compatible with human rights. This is now a matter for the all the parties in the Assembly,” said a statement from Sinn Fein Cookstown. “We, as legislators, should first and foremost provide legislation that is human rights compliant.

“Sinn Fein support legislation coming forward on this issue where it applies in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.”

But the party was also quick to say it “does not support abortion on demand and we opposed the extension of the 1967 Act to the North”.

Voting on the amendments for Mid Ulster’s electorate, Martin McGuinness, Michelle O’Neill, Bronwyn McGahan and Ian Milne voted ‘Aye’.

Local SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone voted ‘noe’ on the night.

“Personally I am pro-life and the SDLP has a pro-life policy,” he said. “Unborn children have rights too.”

The DUP’s Lord Morrow, MLA Ian McCrea and UUP MLA Sandra Overend also voted down the changes.

While the DUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP all moved as parties, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt allowed his members to vote as they saw fit.

Mrs Overend said she was torn on an issue she had been heavily lobbied on.

The DUP came in for some flack after announcing before the debate they had tasked Health Minister Simon Hamilton to set up a working group to examine the issue.

Dungannon pro-life group, St Joseph’s has said it was delighted with the outcome.

“The unexpectedly wide margin of victory is a testimony to the impact of the pro-life lobby and shows that the majority of people do not want abortion forced upon us,” said Catherine Sewell.

“Sinn Fein is a disgrace. The party are making fools of the Catholic electorate that puts them in office.”