Belfast Telegraph

MPs urge Government to intervene over Northern Ireland abortion laws

Senior MPs have urged the Government to intervene over abortion laws in Northern Ireland after ministers agreed a £1 billion deal with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Tory Anna Soubry and Labour's Yvette Cooper were among those to brand the current situation an "injustice" amidst calls from the Government to take action.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland without exceptional circumstances, with hundreds of women thought to be charged by the NHS each year to travel elsewhere in the UK for surgery.

First Secretary of State Damian Green resisted these calls for action, saying it was best resolved through domestic politics in Northern Ireland.

Speaking as Mr Green updated MPs on the Government's deal with the DUP, former business minister Ms Soubry said: "Would the First Secretary agree with me the injustice, because that is what it is, of women from Northern Ireland who seek terminations being charged to have them on the mainland by the NHS is nothing at all to do with this agreement, it's an entirely separate matter?

"And to that end, would he agree with me that this is something that the Government should look at, because it isn't fair that women seeking terminations from Northern Ireland should be charged by the NHS here in this country?"

In reply, Mr Green said: "This is clearly an enormously sensitive political topic and the best place for it to be resolved is within the democratic politics of Northern Ireland itself."

Former shadow home secretary Ms Cooper asked if the Government would "deal with the huge anomaly" of women from Northern Ireland being charged in NHS hospitals in Great Britain for abortion.

She asked Mr Green: "Would he agree that this is hugely unfair on women from Northern Ireland who travel to England, Scotland or Wales for an abortion, treats them completely unfairly and is unjust for women's rights?"

Mr Green said he appreciated the "strength" of Ms Cooper's convictions on the issues, but said that it was a "health matter and it is therefore devolved to Northern Ireland".

"So it is for people in Northern Ireland to decide issues like this - this is the logic of devolution, that issues that like this should be decided in the devolved authorities, just as health matters are decided already by the Scottish and Welsh governments.

"And since we all hope, I assume we all hope, that we should have a devolved executive in Northern Ireland it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide these matters."

Labour's Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) said it was "not a devolved matter" and asked whether the Government had made "any commitment to the DUP" on the issue.

She said: "Or are Northern Irish women simply expected to pay the price of what feels like a forced marriage?"

Mr Green said he was "happy to assure (Ms Creasy) and the House that the agreement is what is set out - there are no private or side agreements attached to this, this is completely open.

"This is clearly a political discussion that she may wish to bring about in Northern Ireland when we have a devolved executive there."

Labour's Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen) asked whether the DUP deal would stop the UK's progress towards the Global Goal 5 on reproductive rights, "losing our position as one of the global leaders fighting for equality for all".

Mr Green said: "This is a matter to be decided in Northern Ireland by Northern Ireland politicians and the people of Northern Ireland, and that is where she should be making her arguments."

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