HC Deb 12 November 1987 vol 122 cc537-8
2. Mrs. Wise

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent consideration has been given to extending the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Needham)

The legalisation on abortion in Northern Ireland was last reviewed in 1985. At that time it was concluded that any change in the law would be opposed by an overwhelming majority of the population. I believe that that remains the case.

Mrs. Wise

Is the Minister aware that some readily available ante-natal tests in Britain for the detection of serious congenital abnormalities are not so readily available in Northern Ireland? Is he further aware that in Northern Ireland a significantly higher percentage of babies are born with defects? Does that not give him good cause to reconsider the matter?

Mr. Needham

I am aware of the facts mentioned by the hon. Lady and I must admit that personally I should like to see a broader debate on this matter. However, therapeutic abortion is available in Northern Ireland and I am doing all that I can as the Minister responsible for health to make sure that people are properly counselled.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people in this country regard the 1967 Act with utter abhorrence and would greatly regret its extension to Northern Ireland or anywhere else? We should bear in mind that only about 7 per cent. of babies surviving beyond the 18th week of pregnancy are born disabled, that many deformities are only slight and that many disabled people lead worthwhile lives.

Mr. Needham

I understand my hon. Friend's views and I appreciate the depth of her feelings. However, I believe that adequate and proper counselling should be available for mothers who may find themselves having a badly handicapped child, which may be immensely disruptive and destructive for the family.

Rev. Martin Smyth

The Minister has underlined the fact that therapeutic abortion is available in Northern Ireland. Will he also acknowledge that in our professor of genetics we have a very able person who is conducting a worthwhile scheme? However, in a week in which the House and the nation have shared in mourning the destruction of 12 lives in Northern Ireland, would the Minister not say that it was deplorable to suggest that an Act that has contributed to the destruction of almost 3 million human beings with potential should be extended to Northern Ireland? We do not want it.

Mr. Needham

As I have already said, it has been the policy not only of this Government but of their predecessors not to introduce legislation of that sort, which would be opposed by a large majority of the people in Northern Ireland. That remains the position.

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