Some time ago, my colleagues and I met Sarah Ewart and her mother, Jane Christie. In 2013, Sarah made public her heartbreaking experience of having to travel to England to access a termination after her unborn baby was diagnosed with a brain and skull malformation that gave no possibility of survival outside of the womb and led to the risk of her being poisoned if the foetus died in utero.
It was a tragic story that brought to prominence the plight of women who suffer a Fatal Foetal Abnormality (FFA) and I and others promised Sarah and Jane we would do all we could to help prevent other women going through the same harrowing experience.
The amendment to the Justice Bill brought by Stewart Dickson and I will be debated in the Assembly on Wednesday. It is a strictly worded amendment relating specifically to FFA and, while it may not go far enough for some, as we know, politics is about what is possible.
I believe this is the only way forward which a majority of the Assembly will potentially support.
Abortion law is a matter of conscience for Alliance, with the party’s representatives and members having opinions that range across the spectrum.
After an extensive consultation, the Justice Minister brought a proposal to the Executive in June 2015 that would have seen legislation agreed in cases of FFA. Unfortunately, that has been blocked by others in the Executive, leading to a stalemate. I would make a personal appeal to those parties who blocked it and who have not yet made public their intentions around this amendment to allow a free vote among their MLAs on this issue. I believe in such a case, the amendment would pass.
Further to that, I plead with the larger parties – in particular, the DUP – not to use the petition of concern mechanism to block it.
Not only would that be an immense disappointment to me, other sympathetic MLAs and supporters of such legislation, but it would deny a relatively small group of women in tragic circumstances the right to make their own choice, a right they surely deserve.
(Originally published in the Belfast Telegraph 08/02/2016)