Abortion is an extremely sensitive and emotive issue with passionate views on both sides. It is also a matter of conscience.
In Northern Ireland, abortion is currently illegal, other than in cases where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or if there is a permanent or serious risk to the mother’s physical or mental health. The UK Government has consistently stated its view that the law in this area is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
It is my personal belief that all women in the UK should have the right to choose a safe, legal abortion and I note the UN has said that the UK is violating women’s rights in Northern Ireland by restricting access to abortion. This is also the judgement of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom which recently considered a challenge over the legality of Northern Ireland’s abortion law. Although the challenge was rejected on technical grounds, the court’s judgement was clear that the law in Northern Ireland violates fundamental human rights.
I also note that an opinion poll by Amnesty International has found that almost 60% of people in Northern Ireland support the decriminalisation of abortion.
I appreciate that abortion is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and this is why I have long believed that the UK Government should work with the Northern Ireland Assembly to extend abortion rights appropriate to Northern Ireland to women in Northern Ireland. In my view, it is not fair that some women in the UK are denied access to a safe, legal abortion.
Of course, I would like to see devolved government be re-established in Northern Ireland as soon as possible. However, in its absence, I believe that the UK Government must act on the moral and legal basis of upholding international human rights and ensure that all UK women have the right to access an abortion.
I spoke in Parliament on 7th June about this issues; here is what I had to say: