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Majority support decriminalising abortion in NI - polls

Sky News logo Sky News 10/10/2018
The Northern Ireland march was dominated by the abortion debate © PA The Northern Ireland march was dominated by the abortion debate

The majority of people across the UK want abortion to be decriminalised in Northern Ireland, according to the the latest opinion polls.

Commissioned by Amnesty International, the surveys show that 65% of adults in Northern Ireland are of the view that abortion should not be a crime, while 78% of British people support decriminalisation.

The charity says they are the first major polls of public opinion on abortion reform in Northern Ireland since voters in the Republic voted to repeal the country's ban on abortion in a referendum in May.

And, according to the polls, there are large majorities in Britain and Northern Ireland for Belfast to follow suit - three quarters and two-thirds respectively.

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YouGov carried out the poll of British adults, while Northern Irish adults were quizzed as part of a Cognisense Omibus survey.

At the moment, abortions in Northern Ireland are illegal unless there are exceptional medical and/or mental health circumstances.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaign manager, said the polls show there is "overwhelming support" for change that the government "cannot ignore".

"The results show that this is not a political or contentious issue, it's fundamentally an issue of health, human rights, equality and dignity," she said.

"Voters of all political backgrounds, including Labour, Conservative, Sinn Fein and DUP voters, are backing decriminalisation of abortion.

"The UK government cannot ignore the overwhelming support for abortion law reform.

"It must listen to the people and put an end to the criminalisation of women and girls."

The release of the polls comes as a Labour MP at Westminster launches a private member's bill which aims to decriminalise consensual abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Diana Johnson's bill - which will be introduced in the Commons on 23 October - wants to remove sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that make abortion a criminal offence.

The 1967 Abortion Act in England and Wales provided for exemptions to the 1861 Act, enabling legal abortions.

"Abortion is fundamentally a women's healthcare and human rights issue," Ms Johnson said.

"The law should reflect this.

"If we don't act now, women will continue to suffer under an outdated and ineffective regime regulating abortion."

Amid the absence of a devolved government in Northern Ireland, Downing Street has so far declined to step in and pass legislation after the Supreme Court found in June that the current legal framework was incompatible with human rights laws.

But the court dismissed the legal challenge from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission by a narrow majority, saying it had no jurisdiction to consider the case due to their being no actual or potential victim of an unlawful act involved in it.

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