18 August 2014
Last updated at 09:10 ET
Justice Minister David Ford said that if there was not a joint approach with the Department of Health, then the Department of Justice would bring forward its own consultation paper in the autumn
The Justice Department will publish proposals for abortion law changes in NI by autumn, unless there is a joint approach with the Department of Health.
Justice Minister David Ford made the announcement as he called for a single consultation on changing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, not two.
He said his department is preparing a consultation dealing with rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality cases.
He was speaking following an abortion controversy in the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Ford said in cases of rape, incest and terminal foetal abnormality, a change in Northern Ireland’s criminal law was required, and the Department of Justice was preparing a consultation paper.
However, he said it was the Department of Health’s responsibility to set out the premise for lawful abortion in Northern Ireland.
He said it would be better if the public consultations ran concurrently and called for both departments to work together on one single consultation.
He said he had written to Health Minister Edwin Poots before the Northern Ireland Assembly’s summer recess, asking him to consider the suggestion.
Mr Ford said if that did not happen, then the Department of Justice would bring forward its own consultation paper in the autumn.
The justice minister was responding to criticism from the Ulster Unionist Party MLA Roy Beggs, who sits on the Assembly’s health committee.
Mr Beggs criticised the length of time it has taken to introduce new abortion guidelines.
Mr Ford told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme: “It’s actually extremely difficult to define the kind of circumstances in which a termination might be possible in the case of terminal abnormality.
“Would you have to define specific illnesses? Would it be matter of leaving it to consultants to give an opinion?
“Those are the kind of issues which have had to be considered.
“There has been help given by officials from the Department of Health to my officials and we now have a document ready to go around that, but clearly it is a difficult issue.
“It’s morally difficult for many people, but it’s an issue that has to be addressed in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Ford first confirmed that he was going to consult on changing abortion laws, to allow women carrying babies with fatal foetal abnormalities to have a termination, in December last year.
At the time, he said he hoped the consultation document would be ready by Easter.
Fatal foetal abnormality is currently not grounds for abortion under Northern Ireland law.
In October 2013, Northern Ireland woman Sarah Ewart contacted the BBC to highlight her personal experience of having to choose between travelling to Great Britain for an abortion or carrying on with her pregnancy, after doctors told her the child had no chance of survival.
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