MPs' vote calls for explanation of Northern Ireland abortion law
Northern Ireland MPs' vote calls for explanation of Northern Ireland abortion law
Westminster votes by 207 to 117 to force Karen Bradley to âissue guidanceâ on continued enforcement of law
A landmark amendment forcing Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, âto issue guidanceâ to explain how officials can continue to enforce the regionâs draconian Victorian-era abortion law was passed by MPs.
MPs in Westminster voted b y 207 to 117 to impose their will, a matter normally reserved for Stormont, arguing that the abortion ban was incompatible with human rights on an amendment proposed by Labourâs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn.
The victory is largely symbolic as it is not clear how far the amendment would impact on existing practice. The NHS does not provide abortions in Northern Ireland, forcing women who live there to travel to Great Britain to obtain terminations.
An earlier, more clear-cut amendment put forward by the two Labour MPs had to be withdrawn because the clerks at the House of Commons said it was outside the scope of the Northern Ireland bill that the government was putting through.
The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) has long opposed any loosening of the law, although nationalist party Sinn FÃ©in has relaxed its stance after Ireland voted in favour of abortion in a referendum earlier this year.
Abortion is normally subject to a free vote, but the law has b een devolved in Northern Ireland for a century and the matter is theoretically reserved for Stormont, although the Northern Ireland assembly has not sat since the beginning of 2017.Labour MPs in fresh bid to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland Read more
Creasy had complained before the vote that Theresa May has been reluctant to intervene on the issue in Northern Ireland because of her reliance on the DUP to give her government a Commons majority.
âThe absence of an assembly cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland â¦ The question is whether the prime ministerâs more concerned about the DUP than the damage human rights abuses do,â she said.
A supreme court ruling in June had indicated that Northern Irelandâs abortion laws were incompatible with human rights legislation, but judges declined to issue a final ruling because the case that had been brought before them did not involve an indivi dual victim.
While England, Scotland and Wales have their own laws that legalise terminations, in the region, the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act still applies, which criminalises any woman seeking an abortion or anybody helping them obtain one.
Creasy and McGinnâs amendment had the support of Labourâs deputy leader, Tom Watson, half a dozen Conservatives including Heidi Allen and Tom Tugendhat, plus Norman Lamb for the Liberal Democrats and the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas.Labour MPs to press May for Commons vote on Northern Ireland abortion ban Read more
On Tuesday, MPs voted to repeal the law via a separate backbench bill. The free vote on a 10-minute rule bill, put forward by Labourâs Diana Johnson, passed by 208 votes to 123, with one cabinet minister, Penny Mordaunt, voting in favour.
However, the Johnson bill will not become law because the government has signalled that it will not give it parliamentary time â" while W ednesdayâs amendment to the Northern Ireland bill could become law because it is attached to government legislation.
On Tuesday, Johnsonâs bill was opposed by Fiona Bruce, a Conservative MP, who said: âWhatever membersâ differing views on abortion, if we respect devolution, we should vote against this motion today.â
Bruce also argued it was untimely, given Brexit negotiations meant it was âsuch a sensitive time in relations between the Westminster government and the Northern Ireland administrationâ.Topics
- Northern Ireland
- Northern Irish politics
- Stella Creasy
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