Belfast Telegraph

Opinions split on Westminster intervention in abortion laws

Grainne Teggart
Grainne Teggart
Dawn McAvoy
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Today's call from an all-party group of MPs for the UK Government to step in and legislate on Northern Ireland's abortion laws has drawn a mixed response.

The report, from the Women and Equalities Committee, has recommended that in the absence of a functioning Stormont, Westminster should take responsibility for amending legislation here.

While Amnesty International said the UK Government must now move urgently to amend abortion laws, pro-life campaigners insisted the place for any decision remains in Northern Ireland.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaign manager, said the UK Government must now address breaches of women's rights.

She said: "Devolution does not relieve the UK Government of their obligation to protect and promote the rights of women in Northern Ireland. The time for change is now."

Sarah Ewart was forced to travel to England for an abortion after being told her pregnancy had a fatal foetal diagnosis and has brought her case to Belfast High Court with support from Amnesty International.

She said: "Northern Ireland's archaic abortion laws have left women like me suffering for far too long. I hope the recommendations signal a turning point and finally brings an end to the harm caused."

The call was also welcomed by Clare Murphy from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

"Every day, women and girls are forced to make the choice between travelling for abortion care, risking life imprisonment by using abortion pills purchased online, or continuing a pregnancy against their wishes," she said.

"The Government cannot continue to use devolution as an excuse for inaction."

Les Allamby, chief commissioner at the NI Human Rights Commission, said criminalisation of women must end without further delay.

"The Government must reform the law and uphold its human rights obligations," he said.

Karen Murray, director for Northern Ireland at the Royal College of Midwives, said the current situation is serving neither women nor health professionals well.

However, others cautioned against amending our abortion laws.

Dawn McAvoy, co-founder of Both Lives Matter, said the report is at odds with the submissions received and raises serious questions about devolution.

"This report, which was not adopted unanimously, calls for law change to allow abortion in cases of 'fatal foetal abnormality'. We would welcome consultation, but the proper place for such a debate is in Northern Ireland, not in the committee rooms of Westminster," she said.

"The committee lacked any representation from Northern Ireland.

"The submissions from those who do live in Northern Ireland clearly favoured no change in the law, yet the committee is proposing that Westminster impose abortion law change on us.

"It is unacceptable to take advantage of political complexities to meddle in abortion law when this matter has been the responsibility of Northern Ireland politicians since 1921."

Those views were echoed by CARE (Christian Action Research and Education), who said the prospect of Westminster bringing about change is "alarming".

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said it was "outraged" by the report and noted the committee's membership does not include any Northern Ireland MPs.

It said the findings were "a sham, lacking any credibility" and called on Prime Minister Theresa May to publicly reject the document.

SPUC's Northern Ireland political officer Liam Gibson said: Not one of these MPs has received a single vote from the people of Northern Ireland.

"They are totally dismissive of the right of the people here to maintain laws which protect children from abortion, laws which have saved the lives of over 100,000 babies.

"They pay lip service to the devolution settlement but then try to dictate what our laws ought to be."

Belfast Telegraph


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