Belfast Telegraph

Commons vote to grant abortions in Northern Ireland is first step and not done deal

Diana Johnson
Diana Johnson
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Westminster yesterday voted in favour of legalising abortion in Northern Ireland as the first reading of the Abortion Bill was passed by 208 to 123 - a majority of 85.

Seven DUP MPs - Gregory Campbell, Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson, Jim Shannon, David Simpson, Sammy Wilson and Paul Girvan - voted against the first reading of the bill, which is seeking to scrap 157-year-old laws that make the practice illegal.

The DUP's Emma Little Pengelly was a teller for the vote, meaning she counted the votes but could not take part.

The bill was listed for a second reading on November 23 but is unlikely to become law in its current form without Government support or sufficient parliamentary time.

The private member's bill was tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson and aims to remove sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that make abortion a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The 1967 Abortion Act in England and Wales provided for exemptions to the 1861 Act, enabling legal abortions there.

The vote was welcomed by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey. "I thank Diane Johnson MP for her continuing commitment to human rights and to the women of Northern Ireland.

"The Ten Minute Rule Bill is notoriously difficult to progress but these MPs recognise that the criminalisation of abortion represents an abuse of the rights of women across Northern Ireland.

"Today, we have moved a step closer to ending this cruel and degrading denial of the rights of women and their reproductive health care," she said.

But Northern Ireland's leading pro-life group Precious Life called the vote "a direct attack on Northern Ireland's unborn babies, democracy, and the peace process".

Director Bernadette Smyth said: "Pro-abortion MPs in Westminster have no regard for unborn children. Those who voted in favour of this bill have also shown utter contempt and disregard for devolution and democracy.

"Northern Ireland's legislation on abortion is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate on.

"In 2016 the Assembly voted against any change in the laws. This must be acknowledged and respected.

"This bill is a death threat to our unborn children. If passed, it would also damage the Good Friday Agreement which was all about bringing peace through devolution, and respecting the rights of all people in Northern Ireland - and the most fundamental right of all is the right to life itself."

Abortions in Northern Ireland are currently illegal in all but exceptional medical and mental health circumstances and the Government has so far resisted pressure to legislate for reform in the wake of a recent Supreme Court judgment that found the current legal framework incompatible with human rights laws.

In June, a majority of Supreme Court judges said the ban on terminations in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality needed "radical reconsideration".

Amendments proposed by Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn to compel the Government to push through changes to abortion and same sex marriage laws in Northern Ireland will be debated at Westminster today.

Belfast Telegraph


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