Smith: Stormont will lose right to influence abortion laws without powersharing

Northern Ireland politicians will have given up their right to influence new abortion laws if they fail to restore devolution in the coming weeks, the Secretary of State has warned.

Julian Smith said the best way forward was for Stormont parties to take responsibility for regulations on terminations.

Legislation passed by Westminster MPs in the summer will see the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland later in the month.

However, a caveat in the legislation means the law change will not be implemented if powersharing is restored by October 21.

If Stormont is not up and running by that date, the Government will take on the responsibility for introducing new regulations to permit abortions in the region by next April.

Mr Smith, who is attempting to kick-start stalled efforts to negotiate a deal to restore devolution, was asked about the issue ahead of a series of meetings with Stormont parties at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down on Friday.

“The issue of abortion, which is hugely sensitive, is one reason why I think the parties should get together in the coming weeks and form an executive because that is the only way to make sure that the abortion reform that has been agreed at Westminster, through a free vote, to make sure that that is implemented in the best interests of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Without the executive coming together, I think politicians here will have given up the right to influence that and we will be implementing that law from Westminster.

“And I think the best thing to do is for Northern Ireland parties to take responsibility for that and to make sure that is shaped in the best interests of women throughout Northern Ireland.”

As it stands, there will be a moratorium on criminal prosecutions in the six month period between October 21 and the deadline for new regulations to be introduced.

Northern Ireland has currently the strictest abortion regime in the UK, with terminations only permitted if the mother’s life is in danger or there is a serious risk to her physical or mental health.

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