Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster has said her administration will do “everything in its power” to resist calls from the UK government to change the province’s tight abortion laws.
In a meeting with pro-life campaign group Precious Life, Mrs Foster pledged to protect Northern Ireland’s laws while focusing on improving perinatal hospice care.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has come under increasing scrutiny in the British mainland after agreeing to prop up Theresa May’s weakened Conservative government following June’s election.
Left wing commentators and politicians have strongly criticised the DUP’s opposition to abortion and same-sex civil marriage, but the party remains defiant and has refused to introduce either to Northern Ireland.
The 1967 Abortion Act, which legalised the practice in Britain, never applied to Northern Ireland, which only permits terminations when a woman’s life is at risk, or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.
Recently, the British government’s equalities minister Justine Greening announced that Northern Irish women who travel to England for abortions will be able to have them for free on the NHS. Hard-line abortion supporters also want the government to fund their flights.
Precious Life said in a statement that Mrs Foster acknowledged Northern Ireland is “definitely under pressure to change its pro-life laws”, however she “firmly assured us that the DUP will do ‘everything in our power’ to safeguard our current laws and protect the most vulnerable in our society.”
Mrs Foster met with Youth for Life NI, Precious Life’s youth movement, as part of their ‘lobby for life’ campaign.
“It is so incredibly important to lobby for life at this present point in time because of the stark threat to unborn children here as Northern Ireland faces a great deal of political instability,” Precious Life said.
The DUP has traditionally been strongly Protestant and anti-Catholic. However, some Catholics are now turning to the party as the only option to defend traditional social teaching.