Rev Lesley Carroll, who is standing for the UUP in North Belfast, has voiced her opinions on the issue of abortion, claiming that there should be more discussion on the issue.
Rev Carroll, a Presbyterian minister, made it clear that she was not in favour of a “blanket extension of the 1967 Act”, but said that there should be “an emphasis on choice”.
In an interview with the News Letter, the Rev Carroll said: “For me, it is a matter of choice and allowing people in very difficult circumstances to make a choice. Their lives are not black and white to begin with – in the situation’s that they’re in — so they’re not making an easy black and white choice.
“So this for me is a matter of compassion, to allow mothers, in particular, to make that decision for themselves.”
The Rev Carroll also said that gay marriage was “one of the issues that I find most difficult” to decide on. She said that civil partnerships do not provide the same protections as marriage and said there were “inequalities that absolutely need to be addressed in a civic sense”.
However, she added: “Holy matrimony and civil marriage would not be the same thing. The churches also need to be protected.”
Rev Carroll’s comments on the debate about Northern Ireland’s abortion laws have been echoed by her party colleague, Cllr John Scott.
Speaking to the Times, Cllr Scott said: “I agree that there needs to be more discussion around the issue of abortion. At the end of the day we are part of the United Kingdom. I’m not saying that we should go as far as it is in England, but the law should be relaxed. People with money from Northern Ireland can go across the water and have an abortion. People without money can’t afford to do that. People can walk into a chemist and buy the morning after pill; is that not the same thing? I don’t agree that the young girl in Belfast (who bought abortion drugs online) should have been prosecuted recently in the high profile case. It is time our Assembly members got together and had a rethink about the law on abortion.”
Following Rev Carroll’s original comments, the Presbyterian Church has strongly re-stated its opposition to abortion.
A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: “While it would not be appropriate for us to comment on statements by individual candidates or parties during an election campaign, the position of the Church is very clear on many of the moral issues under debate.
“For instance, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland holds a strongly pro-life position. We believe that the current law attempts to protect both the life of the mother and the unborn child.”
On the issue of same-sex marriage, the spokesperson added: “With reference to any proposal to redefine marriage, our longstanding position is that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman. This definition, which is held by the vast majority of countries worldwide, serves society well and is line with historic mainstream and orthodox Christian teaching.”