Northern Ireland parties make last-ditch attempt to stop new abortion law

It comes as Westminster gave the region until midnight October 21 to reach an agreement and restore its power-sharing government, warning that if the deadline was missed it would step in and reform Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion and same-sex marriage directly from London. The power-sharing executive collapsed in January 2017 because of a spat over a renewable energy policy.

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Monday’s — likely short — session of the Assembly was triggered after anti-abortion lawmakers signed a petition triggering a recall, to discuss the decriminalization at Stormont. The signatures were mostly made up of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members.

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Abortion law in Northern Ireland is considerably different from legislation in the rest of the UK — with the procedure carrying maximum sentences of life imprisonment, even in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormality.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster said in a statement last week that she urges “other MLAs who oppose the extreme liberalization of our abortion law, to step outside any Party shackles and join us in recalling the Assembly.”

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She added that it was “time to get Northern Ireland moving again.”

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Despite efforts by the DUP and other anti-abortion lawmakers, the recall isn’t likely to affect Westminster’s plans to change Northern Ireland’s law, as the region would need to appoint a full new Executive and that won’t happen without Irish republican lawmakers Sinn Féin, who branded the recall a “stunt.”

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“Arlene Foster’s ‘proposal’ to recall the assembly on Monday is a pointless political stunt, which has literally no impact unless its business is to appoint an Executive who does have the power to effect legal change,” a spokesman for Sinn Féin told the PA news agency.

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The region’s complex power-sharing arrangement — established as part of the peace process — means that both the nationalist Sinn Féin party and the unionist DUP must work together, and appoint a First Minister and Deputy First Minister who would lead the Executive together.

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