Belfast Telegraph

Changing law on abortion without Assembly 'would be very reckless'

Grainne Teggart
Grainne Teggart

By Aoife Moore

A group of MPs have been warned it would be "reckless" to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland without an Assembly in place.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee visited Northern Ireland yesterday to speak to campaigners on both sides of the abortion debate.

The hearings, which took place in Antrim and Londonderry, heard from activists on the general view of the law and whether MPs in the House of Commons should intervene on women's reproductive health issues in the absence of a working Assembly in Stormont.

In Antrim's Civic Centre, anti-abortion campaigners told MPs it would be "irresponsible" for Westminster to overrule a devolved issue.

"This issue is devolved, and it's a dangerous precedent to set for devolution, if Westminster would get involved in altering the law," Dawn McAvoy, co-founder of Both Lives Matter, said.

"I think there is this idea that Northern Ireland is The Handmaid's Tale, this very religious place, this little bubble where women don't have a voice.

"We don't have the policies in place to cater for abortion, it would be a huge change in Northern Ireland, it would be reckless to do something without an Assembly to deal with the fall-out."

Labour MP Jess Phillips asked the campaigners whether they believed women should be criminalised for having a termination.

Ms Woods repeatedly went on to compare criminalisation of women having abortions to someone facing charges for disturbing a badgers' set.

She noted that a person hypothetically would face charges for disturbing a badgers' set but not "terminating life". The answer was repeated so often that chairwoman Maria Miller MP, intervened saying: "Please stop talking about badgers."

In Derry's Waterside Theatre yesterday evening, calls were made for "free, safe and legal abortion".

Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International UK argued for full decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

"The current law puts women's health at risk, causes unnecessary distress, and undermines the quality of care from service-providers," she said.

"The practical result of the legal regime is that women who require an abortion have to travel to obtain one, or buy medical abortion pills online, which is illegal and leaves them vulnerable to prosecution.

"This excludes many people who are unable to travel including, victims of domestic violence, refugees with unconfirmed immigration status, those who are too young to travel alone and those with complex health needs. Travel carries stigma."

In Northern Ireland, abortion is only lawful in limited circumstances, where there is a risk to a woman or girl's life or the risk of real and serious long-term or permanent damage to her physical or mental health.

Department of Health statistics show that just 12 abortions were carried out by the health service in Northern Ireland last year.

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