Northern Ireland abortion: Westminster must not miss crucial opportunity to reform law

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Decriminalisation of abortion Bill in House of Commons for first reading 

Westminster must listen to the women and girls of Northern Ireland and prioritise their health and rights, Amnesty International has said today, ahead of two crucial moments for abortion reform taking place in parliament this week.

Diana Johnson MP will introduce a backbench bill today (23 October) calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. MPs are also attempting to amend the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill - due to be debated on Wednesday (24 October) - so that it includes clauses that will force the Government to act upon its human rights obligations by reforming Northern Ireland’s abortion and equal marriage laws.

Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland Campaign Manager at Amnesty International UK, said:     

“Westminster must use this week to show it will prioritise the health and rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland by moving a step closer towards scrapping Northern Ireland’s archaic and cruel abortion law.

“Diana Johnson MP will bring forward her Bill on the decriminalisation of abortion, which crucially addresses the fact that the law in Northern Ireland is outdated and in breach of women’s rights.

“The Government must give the Bill the parliamentary time it needs, otherwise they will yet again let women and girls in Northern Ireland down by suggesting their rights don’t matter as much as other women and girls in the UK.

“Amnesty’s recent polling shows that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want Westminster to reform the abortion law, and MPs from across the political parties are mounting increasing pressure on the Government to act. What more is it going to take for Westminster to take this urgent issue seriously?”

There are also plans by MPs to amend the Northern Ireland Bill to include a clause to ensure that Westminster takes responsibility for repealing legislation which adversely affects the human rights of people in Northern Ireland in the absence of Northern Ireland ministers. Such legislation would set out a path for Westminster to legislate for decriminalisation of abortion and marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

Grainne Teggart added:

“The Northern Ireland Bill is being rushed through without consideration for the wants and needs of the people of Northern Ireland. Any legislation on Northern Ireland must put the equality and rights of Northern Irish citizens at its heart. The proposed amendments to the Bill to allow for legislation on abortion and equal marriage must be adopted with human rights compliant legislation subsequently brought to Parliament. Otherwise the Bill will fail those needing change.”

Background:

Amnesty’s recent polling of public opinion in Northern Ireland showed high levels of support for abortion law change, with 65% believe that having an abortion should not be a crime and 66% believe that Westminster should reform the law in absence of a devolved government.  

Diana Johnson MP’s Private Members’ Bill seeks to decriminalise consensual abortion in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. The bill which was drafted with support of Amnesty International UK, the Family Planning Association, BPAS, Professor Sally Sheldon and others - aims to update current abortion laws so they are based on women’s welfare and best medical practice, and to ensure that women in Northern Ireland, England and Wales are no longer criminalised for seeking an abortion.  The Bill is co-sponsored from almost every UK political party.

The speaker will decide whether the proposed amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill are selected.

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