UK: Labour MPs visit Belfast to discuss abortion law reform

Amnesty International and the Family Planning Association will today host a delegation of Labour MPs in Belfast, led by Shadow Secretary of State Owen Smith, as they meet with key individuals and organisations working alongside them to reform Northern Ireland’s abortion law.

The visit follows last year’s Labour Party manifesto commitment to ensure a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion, and the party’s instrumental role in delivering free abortions for women from Northern Ireland in England since June 2017. 

The visit will include meetings with MLAs, legal professionals, healthcare professionals, women affected by the law, and a range of civic society organisations.

Owen Smith MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said:

"In our 2017 manifesto the Labour Party committed to working with the Northern Ireland Assembly to strengthen women’s rights to choose a safe abortion. That is why today we are in Northern Ireland meeting with Amnesty, FPA, MLAs, legal and healthcare professionals, civil society representatives and, most importantly, women affected by the current law in Northern Ireland.

“We believe that this is a decision that should be made in Stormont by a returned Stormont Assembly and Executive and we will continue to do all we can to see the return of devolution. However, if power returns to Westminster, we will push the Government to make progress on ensuring people in Northern Ireland have the same rights as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom."

Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland Campaigns Manager for Amnesty, said:

“We welcome the commitment of the Labour Party to ensuring women’s access to free, safe and legal abortion. Westminster must be ready to legislate for change on abortion if the Stormont talks fail.Today’s meetings are a key part of our work to build a cross-party constituency of support for change at Westminster. Devolution is no justification for the denial of women’s rights and it does not relieve the UK Government of their responsibility to ensure that women’s right to abortion is upheld.

“With Stormont talks underway, the role of the UK Government is not just to be a facilitator in these talks. They are responsible for ensuring that long overdue change on abortion happens either via devolution or direct rule. We must not see rights sacrificed for political expediency. 

“At a time when we are witnessing unprecedented cross-party political leadership in the Republic of Ireland on abortion, women need to see politicians here stand up for their rights. No woman on this island must be left behind. To those who seek to hold back reform, we say: your time is up, women will not wait.”

Ruairi Rowan, Senior Advocacy Officer for the sexual health charity FPA, said:

“As we mark the centenary of the suffrage to some women, in Northern Ireland women continue to suffer daily discrimination and inequality under the Victorian legislation that controls their bodies. In 2018 women here are still governed by an abortion law decided by an all-male parliament, voted for by an all-male electorate. It’s time for this to change. Women have waited for far too long.

“Every day FPA see the distress that restrictive abortion law causes to women who avail of our pregnancy choices counselling service. It is completely unacceptable that in the second decade of the 21st century abortion law in Northern Ireland still stems from a time before women had the right to vote.”

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