Northern Ireland news

Give women same control over bodies as Arlene Foster has over British government, says Stella Creasy

Richard Wheeler and Harriet Line, Press Association

Women in Northern Ireland deserve the same control over their bodies that DUP leader Arlene Foster has over the British government, ministers have been told.

Labour's Stella Creasy urged Secretary of State Karen Bradley to act over Northern Irish abortion law after a majority of Supreme Court judges warned it is incompatible with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) - the right for respect for private and family life.

Ms Creasy, who has been campaigning for reform, insisted the women of Northern Ireland deserve control of their bodies and argued Ms Bradley has the power to act during a time when there is no functioning devolved legislature.

Ms Bradley said she expected the court's comments that the law is incompatible will be "clearly heard" by MPs and politicians in Northern Ireland, although it continued to stress the need for a reconvened Stormont to act.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Ms Creasy said: "Today our Supreme Court has ruled that the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is in breach of the human rights of women in Northern Ireland - let us weigh that sentence for a moment as a House.

"Our own law is breaking the basic human rights of our own citizens.

"The women of Northern Ireland deserve control of their bodies. They deserve not to be forced to go to court and talk about these issues in order to get the government to listen.

"They deserve the kind of control that Arlene Foster currently has over this government.

"The Secretary of State has the power to direct the Northern Irish departments to take such action required under international obligations - human rights are an international obligation.

"Minister, I beg of you, don't make a victim go to court. Name the date the Domestic Abuse Bill will come to Parliament and we can get on and end this scandal.

"We cannot just take back control, we can give it."

Ms Bradley, in her reply, said: "It is the view of this government that the decisions about abortion and the laws that apply in Northern Ireland should rightly and properly be decided by the people of Northern Ireland, and their elected politicians.

"That's why I call on those elected politicians to come together, to form a government in Stormont and deal with this issue.

"Because I, like her, want to ensure that those victims, those personal stories we've all heard, are dealt with."

Ms Bradley said she will continue to consider the 143-page judgment, adding: "This is a matter for the politicians in Northern Ireland, all of whom I'll be speaking to later today."

Tory former cabinet minister Justine Greening said the appeal had been "lost on a technicality", and said: "I believe the women of Northern Ireland do deserve better than the outcome of this judgment today."

She urged Ms Bradley to accept that Parliament, in the absence of a Stormont Assembly, will "now start to look at what steps we can take to make sure we have better outcomes for women in Northern Ireland".

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd said Ms Bradley should set out a timetable that says to Northern Ireland politicians that if they are "not prepared to come to that Stormont Assembly, Westminster would have to act and would have to act on the moral and legal basis that the judgment is a judgment about the United Kingdom's compatibility under international law, not Northern Ireland".

Ms Bradley also told MPs that British government figures showed 919 women travelled to Great Britain for abortions last year, up from 724 in 2016.

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