As it happenedended1528224166

MPs call for 'modern abortion law' during emergency debate on Northern Ireland - as it happened

MPs from all sides called for legal reform to give women right to choose

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
@BenKentish
Tuesday 05 June 2018 09:01
comments
Stella Creasy leads emergency debate in Parliament on Northern Ireland abortion laws

MPs called for reform of abortion law during an impassioned debate in Westminster about the continuing ban in Northern Ireland.

Labour backbencher Stella Creasy urged parliament to consider repealing the two sections of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 that criminalise "procuring the miscarriage of any women".

It follows the Republic of Ireland's referendum on abortion, which saw 66 per cent of voters back lifting the ban in that country.

The Walthamstow MP asked for a bill to be brought to the house within 150 days as she told the Commons: "This is a statement of intent. We want deeds not just words. The women of Northern Ireland, indeed the women of England and Wales, deserve modern abortion law."

Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, said she personally backed abortion reform but argued that the Northern Ireland Assembly must be restored to consider the issue.

"The Prime Minister has been clear in her support for women's rights in respect of access to safe abortions and she welcomed the referendum result in Ireland," said Ms Bradley.

"We are in agreement that the best way forward for Northern Ireland is through locally accountable politicians making important decisions through devolution, and for the people of Northern Ireland to have their say on the devolved issues which affect their daily lives."

Penny Mordaunt, minister for women and equalities, said MPs had sent a message to Northern Ireland's politicians that if they do not act on the issue, "we will".

Conservative MP Heidi Allen, who supported the request for an emergency debate, told the Commons of her "incredibly hard decision" to have a termination.

She said: "I was ill when I made the incredibly hard decision to have a termination: I was having seizures every day, I wasn't even able to control my own body, let alone care for a new life."

Ms Allen asked: "How can it be that Northern Ireland will soon be the only part of Great Britain and Ireland where terminations are to all intents and purposes outlawed?"

Speaking of the women of Northern Ireland, she said: "This has become their moment and they will have my unequivocal support."

Opposition to repeal of the 150 year-old law came from Tory and DUP MPs who argued that it would "impose" one of the most liberal abortion regimes anywhere in the world.

Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, argued that repeal would also remove safeguard imposed by the Abortion Act 1967.

The Congleton MP added: "Already we have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world and yet campaigners want to I believe liberalise them further.

"Colleagues should be under no illusions, repealing these sections would effectively pave the way to review comprehensively our current abortion legislation, not just for Northern Ireland but also for England and Wales.

"We could see abortion on demand throughout pregnancy, that would be wrong and we should resist it."

The DUP's equality spokeswoman Emma Little Pengelly and Tory MP Maria Caulfield both argued that it would introduce "abortion on demand for any reason up to 24 weeks."

DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and MP Sammy Wilson quoted the statistic that 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland due to the Abortion Act 1967 not being introduced.

Sir Jeffrey said: "I am proud of the fact that there are so many people alive in Northern Ireland today because we have a law that respects the rights of both women and of the unborn child and we will maintain that position."

He added: "There are strong voices on both sides of this debate, this is a devolved issue - it should be left to the people of Northern Ireland to decide."

The three-hour debate culminated in an overwhelming vote in favour of noting that parliament had considered the role of parliament in repealing sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 law.

However it does not bind the government to take action and Theresa May has already insisted the issue is a matter for Northern Ireland's leaders.

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Welcome to The Independent's live coverage from Westminster ahead of today's House of Commons debate on lifting the abortion ban in Northern Ireland.

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