Europe

Calls for May to change Northern Ireland's abortion laws in wake of referendum

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UK PM Theresa May is facing calls to push for reform of Northern Ireland's abortion laws after the Irish referendum.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing demands from ministers and MPs in her Conservative party to reform Northern Ireland's highly restrictive abortion rules after neighbouring Ireland's vote to liberalise its laws.

Voters in Ireland, a once deeply Catholic nation, backed the change by two-to-one, a far higher margin than any opinion poll in the run-up to the vote had predicted.

Yes voters celebrate in Dublin after the historic referendum.
Yes voters celebrate in Dublin after the historic referendum.
AAP

Penny Mordaunt, Britain's women and equalities minister, said the victory to legalise abortion should now bring change north of the Irish border.

"A historic and great day for Ireland and a hopeful one for Northern Ireland," Mordaunt said.

"That hope must be met."

Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe with even rape and fatal foetal abnormality not considered legal grounds for a termination. And unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, abortions are banned apart from when the life or mental health of the mother is in 

Since the collapse of a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland at the beginning of last year, British officials have been taking major decisions in the region.

But any moves to change the law could destabilise the British government by antagonising the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party, which May depends on for her parliamentary majority.

More than 130 members of Britain's parliament, including MPs in the ruling Conservative party, are prepared to back an amendment to a new domestic violence bill to allow abortions in Northern Ireland, the Sunday Times newspaper reported.

A spokeswoman for May said changing the rules on abortion is a decision that should be taken by a devolved assembly and the government is working to revive the power-sharing agreement.

Northern Ireland's elected assembly has the right to bring its abortion laws in line with the rest of Britain, but voted against doing so in February 2016.

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