Belfast Telegraph

Politicians unite in call for reform of Northern Ireland abortion legislation

By Ryan Wilkinson

More than 170 UK and Irish politicians have called on the Government to reform Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

The group, including Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem MPs and peers, MLAs and Irish TDs and senators, said it is a matter of protecting women's human rights and honouring the Good Friday Agreement.

According to the group, nearly 1,000 women and girls were forced to travel to Britain for safe terminations in 2017, while others had to take illegal abortion drugs at home.

New figures show the number of women travelling from Northern Ireland to England to have an abortion has increased dramatically since the Government set up a special hotline in March.

A total of 342 women and girls - including at least one 12-year-old - went to England for a termination through the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in the three months since March.

That is a significant increase on the 190 women who travelled to use the same service in the previous nine months.

Calls for our abortion laws to be reformed have intensified after a referendum in the Republic resoundingly backed liberalising legislation south of the border.

Downing Street has previously said abortion law is a devolved issue.

However, the absence of an Assembly at Stormont has placed pressure on Westminster to act.

In a letter to the Sunday Times, the group has urged the Government to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 that makes it a crime for a woman to cause her own abortion in Northern Ireland.

They wrote: "This is the first and critical step to ending the treatment of British and Irish women living in Northern Ireland as second-class citizens, who do not enjoy the same access to healthcare as their counterparts do across these islands.

"We therefore call for our respective governments to act to ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is upheld and the human rights of the women living in Northern Ireland are respected."

Conservatives Sarah Wollaston, the chairwoman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, former minister Nicky Morgan and former party chairwoman Baroness Warsi were among nine Tory MPs and peers to back the calls.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald also signed the letter, along with Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, Lib Dem deputy Jo Swinson and Home Affairs Select Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper.

Belfast Telegraph

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