The Belfast Telegraph reports that revised guidelines on abortion are to be brought before the Northern Ireland Executive within weeks.
The move comes after Health Minister Edwin Poots met two pregnant women whose babies suffered such severe abnormalities that they could not survive after birth.Both women were refused terminations because current legislation in Northern Ireland only permits abortion in very restricted circumstances that do not include lethal foetal abnormality.A Department of Health spokesman said: "Consultation on draft guidelines published earlier this year has closed. A number of submissions to the consultation have highlighted the issue of lethal foetal abnormality and incompatibility with life."Full consideration is currently been given to the all consultation submissions and the minister intends to bring a final version to the Executive for its consideration at an early stage, ideally within a number of weeks."The new guidance cannot change the law but could provide clarity for medical professionals faced with the prospect of prosecution.However, pro life campaigners have vowed to challenge any changes through the courts."We are prepared to take a case to the High Court if the guidelines do not uphold the rights of the unborn child," said Bernie Smyth from Precious Life."There should be no procedures carried out in Northern Ireland that will harm an unborn child. We will not be silenced."The issue of fatal foetal abnormality is not a reason for a legal abortion in Northern Ireland. It gained prominence after the two women went public last week.Sarah Ewart said she was forced to travel to London for a termination after her baby was diagnosed with the anencephaly, a severe brain anomaly which meant the skull had not developed properly.Another woman, known only as Laura, who is 22 weeks pregnant with twins suffering from the same fatal condition, has also been told she will have to fly to England for an abortion.Northern Ireland is not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act. Every year more than 1,000 women travel from the region to clinics in England, Scotland and Wales where access to an abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks into pregnancy on grounds that include abnormalities which could lead to a child being seriously disabled.
Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland said in a news release;
"Abortion is not a compassionate response to the diagnosis of fatal disability. Babies with fatal disabilities are no less human than other children and share the same right to life as all other human beings. The law in Northern Ireland respects that right, while the British Abortion Act has led to the situation where it is lawful to kill a disabled child up to birth."