Belfast Telegraph

MP Stella Creasy: Petition of concern work of dictatorship and majority of DUP supporters want abortion change

'The only woman currently exercising choice over abortion in Northern Ireland is Arlene foster'

Labour MP Stella Creasy has described the use of the petition of concern as the work of a dictatorship.

She was responding after Jim Wells - who has been disciplined by the DUP and has had the whip removed after he made public a grievance with the party - said it would use the mechanism to block a change in abortion laws if it came before the Assembly.

Ms Creasy also suggested the DUP leadership was out of step with its supporters, claiming most wanted a liberalisation of Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

"The only woman currently exercising choice over abortion in Northern Ireland is Arlene Foster," she said in a tweet.

There had been mounting pressure on the Prime Minister to intervene after the Republic's vote to repeal its abortion laws. A spokesman for Number 10 said focus was on restoring devolution.

They added: "It is important to recognise that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to their own process which is run by elected politicians.

"Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent."

MP Creasy claimed more than 140 parliamentarians had already signalled support for an effort to change the law in Northern Ireland.

Ms Creasy, who played a key role in Northern Irish women being able to access free NHS terminations in England, has called for the repeal of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, which makes it criminal for a woman to procure her own abortion.

"That would mean that in the UK every different nation could decide on how we bring in a frame work for the 21 century," she told the BBC.

"And this would include Northern Ireland because for too long we have treated women in Northern Ireland as second class citizens and that has to change.

"We know consistently people in Northern Ireland would like to see reform.. so the politicians are behind the public."

The Prime Minister faces a political headache over the issue because of her fragile administration's dependence on the DUP.

Ms Creasy continued: "Reforming [the Offences Against the Person Act] would not force Northern Irish women to live by the same rules of other parts of the UK. But it would give an opportunity to set those rules.

"It would force the Assembly and civil servants to recognise change needs to happen."

The Walthamstow MP said she had worked with campaigners on the ground in Northern Ireland and it was "very clear" there was a need for change with the differences in the law "further highlighted" by the weekend's referendum result in the Republic.

Stopping abortion in Northern Ireland doesn't stop abortion.

"I think it is right that we ask the UK Prime Minister to listen to every citizen in the UK.

"We have been working across parliament this is genuinely not a partisan issue there is a recognition women can not have equality unless they have control over their own bodies.

"I am very struck that as the law stands right now in Northern Ireland - if a woman is raped and sought to have a termination as a result of that rape she would face a longer prison sentence than her attacker. I don't think that in 2018 anyone would think that a sustainable position."

She added: "Nobody is ignoring the DUP and their views but I am very struck by the fact that the majority of DUP supporters themselves say they would like to see reform.

"It seems to me this is about Arlene Foster having a seat at the Westminster table rather than actually listening to the people of Northern Ireland and the changes they would like to see.

"Stopping abortion in Northern Ireland doesn't stop abortion - it forces women to travel oversea or seek unsafe medical procedures particularly in buying pills online.

"This is about treating women in Northern Ireland with same dignity we treat women in other parts of the UK and to making sure they are safe."

Tory MP Nadine Dorries accused Labour of "mischief making," she said: “I’m pro-choice but this is a devolved matter and Labour know that.

“They’re just mischief making in the hope it weakens the Prime Minister.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the referendum result in the Republic would have no bearing in Northern Ireland, while MP Sammy Wilson said the matter was solely for the people of Northern Ireland.

"My message for the Prime Minister," he said, "just because there are siren voices from the liberals and the left wing at Westminster, she should not bow to that".

The DUP was approached for a comment.

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