Northern Ireland news

MPs set to vote on changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland in debate next month

In Northern Ireland, abortion is only permitted if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health
John Monaghan

THE legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland is set to be voted on by MPs in Westminster for the first time next month.

Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, is to introduce a 'ten-minute rule bill' calling for the de-criminalisation of abortion.

The process allows a backbench MP to argue for a new bill in a speech lasting up to ten minutes.

An opposing speech can be made before MPs then decide whether or not the bill should be introduced. If approved, it is taken to have had its first reading.

Ms Johnson used the procedure in March 2017 to seek support for de-criminalising abortion in England and Wales up to 24 weeks. While MPs passed that motion, it did not become law.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which has an effective ban on abortions.

The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to the north and an abortion is only permitted if a woman's life is endangered or if there is a risk of serious damage to her mental or physical health.

In July, an amendment tabled by Labour MP and Northern Ireland native Conor McGinn, to extend the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths Bill to the region was rejected by ministers.

The British government has insisted that any changes to the north's abortion laws can only be made by the Stormont Assembly, which has been suspended since January 2017.

Some senior Conservative MPs are set to back the Labour MP's motion, according to The Sunday Times.

It means members of Theresa May's party will be at loggerheads with the DUP's nine MPs, who prop up her government and are opposed to any change to the current abortion law.

Ian Paisley, the North Antrim MP, will not be able to vote in the debate as he is currently suspended from parliament.

The Republic voted in a referendum in May to remove the Eighth Amendment from its constitution, which granted an equal right to life to a mother and her unborn child.

An emergency debate was held in the House of Commons in June, tabled by another Labour MP, Stella Creasy.

Introducing that debate, Ms Creasy said: "It is now time for us to offer our hands to the women of Northern Ireland in the same way."

DUP Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told parliament during the June debate that 100,000 people are now alive in Northern Ireland because the 1967 Act was not extended.

"I am proud of that pro-life position, I am proud of the fact that there are so many people alive in Northern Ireland today because we have a law that respects the rights of both women and of the unborn child and we will maintain that position."

"This is a devolved issue - it should be left to the people of Northern Ireland to decide," he added.

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