Belfast Telegraph

Labour manifesto pledges abortion rights for Northern Ireland

By Linda Stewart

A Labour government would extend abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland over the heads of Assembly members, according to the party's leaked draft manifesto.

The document, published in full by the Guardian yesterday, said: "Labour will continue to ensure a woman's right to choose a safe, legal abortion - and we will legislate to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland".

The 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland and women here may only access a termination if her life or her health is at serious risk.

Foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not considered grounds for a legal abortion, so hundreds of women from Northern Ireland travel to Britain each year for terminations.

Last night, pro-choice campaigners welcomed the commitment, but anti-abortion groups said it displayed "utter contempt" for voters in Northern Ireland.

Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland campaigns manager for Amnesty International, welcomed the commitment.

"Westminster has long neglected its duty to uphold the rights of women in this part of the UK," she said.

"I would encourage other parties to commit to abortion law reform, including decriminalisation. The next UK Government must address this as a matter of urgency."

But the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of "breathtaking arrogance".

SPUC's Northern Ireland development officer Liam Gibson said: "The decision by the Labour Party to include in its election manifesto a commitment to impose the Abortion Act on Northern Ireland demonstrates a shocking level of utter contempt for the people of the province and the devolved institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement. We are outraged but so should every single person in Northern Ireland be by this high-handed interference.

"We have the legal and constitutional right to make our own laws on issues such as abortion, which is a matter for the devolved Assembly in Stormont.

"If the Labour Party were to carry out its threat to override the democratic settlement in the province in order to push its own extremist and unpopular abortion agenda, it would severely damage the credibility of the political process and make the existence of the Assembly meaningless."

Pro-choice campaigners Alliance for Choice welcomed the pledge, saying it would be encouraging to see a main Westminster party pushing for abortion rights in Northern Ireland.

"As it stands, 1,000 women a year travel from Northern Ireland to the mainland to access treatment that really should be accessible here," a spokesperson said.

"Our laws here don't stop abortions from happening, they just export them elsewhere so that politicians can pretend it isn't something that happens, and meanwhile it's the most vulnerable women, with little access to money or travel, who are forced into desperate situations."

Green Party deputy leader Clare Bailey said: "I'm encouraged that the Labour Party has pledged action on the issue but I remain disappointed that both Westminster and our Assembly have continually failed women here.

"The Northern Ireland High Court ruled that our abortion legislation is in breach of minimum human rights standards back in 2015. Likewise, the UK Government have been repeatedly called on to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by a series of international human rights bodies.

"This means that there is a legal responsibility for the Westminster Government to act to ens ure that they are human rights compliant in all areas of the United Kingdom."

Cara Sanquest of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said: "Those living in other parts of the UK can access free and safe abortions on the NHS, under the 1967 Abortion Act. This right was never extended to Northern Ireland.

"We are aware that the manifesto is currently in draft. We urge the Labour Party to retain this vital pledge and provide more information.

"We'd also strongly encourage other parties to follow suit when publishing their manifestos."

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