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May urged to support timetable for change on Northern Ireland abortion legislation

Commons questions: Sajid Javid
Commons questions: Sajid Javid
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Amnesty International has called on Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Sajid Javid to "commit to a time-frame" for a bill which could lead to the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

It comes as over 30 MPs vowed to send Mr Javid written questions, calling for the Domestic Abuse Bill to be brought before parliament by the autumn.

The bill could allow pro-choice MPs to table an amendment that could pave the way for women here to access abortions.

They want a free vote to be held in parliament on whether to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which makes it a crime for a woman to "procure her own miscarriage".

While the 1967 Abortion Act exempts women in England and Wales, provided certain conditions are met, this law was never extended to Northern Ireland.

Yesterday Labour's Stella Creasy issued a tweet calling on Mr Javid "to be an ally to women and name the date when his department will bring the domestic abuse bill to parliament".

It came after last week's Supreme Court decision that Northern Ireland's laws are incompatible with human rights legislation. However, the judges stopped short of making a formal declaration of incompatibility.

Amnesty International's Grainne Teggart said: "We call on Theresa May and Home Secretary Sajid Javid to commit to a time-frame to bring forward the Domestic Abuse Bill and enable amendments on abortion reform to be tabled.

"It is hypocritical, degrading and insulting to women to sustain a situation where they can access free, safe and legal abortion if they board a plane to the rest of the UK but deny them care, compassion and healthcare at home.

"The Domestic Abuse Bill is the vehicle to achieve long overdue change for women in Northern Ireland. Westminster can and must act."

Mrs May faces opposition from the 10 anti-abortion DUP MPs on whom her government relies for parliamentary support.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley said the decision should be "absolutely" taken at Stormont.

"It's another example of why the Executive needs to be reformed, so those politicians representing the people of Northern Ireland, understanding their views on this very, very sensitive issue can make sure the law is right for them," she said.

A Government spokesperson said it wanted to "see devolved government restored, so locally elected, democratically accountable politicians can debate fundamental changes to policy on abortion, and the people of Northern Ireland have a direct say in the process."

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