UK

Jim Wells, Northern Ireland's New Health Minister, Thinks Rape Victims Should Not Be Allowed Abortions

24/09/2014 17:24 BST | Updated 24/09/2014 17:59 BST

The part of the UK with the strictest abortion laws has a new health minister who has made "absolutely horrifying" comments that rape victims should be denied access to them.

Jim Wells, who became Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the Northern Ireland cabinet reshuffle this week, has also described any children conceived during a rape as "the ultimate victim of that terrible act".

The Democratic Unionist Party politician's appointment was branded "appalling" by a campaigning group that wants the law changed.

jim wells

Jim Wells described children conceived through a rape as the 'ultimate victim of that terrible act'

In Northern Ireland, abortion is only legal in cases where giving birth would jeopardise the mother's health.

This is because the 1967 Abortion Act, which introduced a more liberal regime in other parts of the UK, did not apply to the province.

Mr Wells was asked about abortion in rape cases during an appearance on Radio Ulster in August 2012, when he was already tipped as a future health minister.

He said: "Should the ultimate victim of that terrible act – which is the unborn child – should he or she also be punished for what has happened by having their life terminated? No.”

He added: “In Northern Ireland there are hundreds of married couples who would love to adopt children, a child, a baby, and who could give support in that situation.

“A termination of a pregnancy should not be the first option in that situation. The other option is that you kill the child who’s a totally innocent victim in this terrible set of circumstances.”

“These instances are extremely rare in Northern Ireland and my concern is those who are lobbying on this issue are using it to some extent because they want abortion on demand for everyone, regardless of the circumstances.”

Kate Smurthwaite, vice-chair of Abortion Rights UK told HuffPost UK Mr Wells' appointment was "appalling", adding: "He has a very negative attitude towards women's rights and abortion in particular.

"It's absolutely horrifying the things he has said. The brutal reality is 40 women a week travel from Northern Ireland to other parts of the UK for an abortion, something they would receive free if they resided in other parts of the UK."

An abortion for these women costs between £600 and £2,000, depending on how long the woman has been pregnant for, Ms Smurthwaite said.

In May, the High Court threw out a legal challenge to Northern Irish women having to pay, saying the NHS in England had no obligation to those who live in the province.

Amnesty International said this ruling "puts the spotlight on the outdated and restrictive laws on abortion in Northern Ireland".

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"The majority of people in Northern Ireland want the law changed," Ms Smurthwaite added.

"It's a shame that the government doesn't have the ovaries to do something, to take a more popular view, to show a little bit of compassion. That's something we're not getting at all from Jim Wells."

After making his 2012 comments, Mr Wells was attacked by his political opponents and told he was "still living in the dark ages" but he defended himself.

He told The Belfast Telegraph that a change in the law could “open the floodgates” and lead to “abortion on demand”.

Mr Wells, 57, is also a Young Earth Creationist he believes the world to be 6,000 years old.

He once described people who took part in a Belfast Gay Pride march as "totally repugnant".

After taking up his health minister post, he reportedly blocked people on Twitter who asked him about his religious views, who created the hashtag #blockedbywells in response to it.