Northern Ireland news

Tory MPs call on Westminster to de-criminalise abortion in Northern Ireland

Conservative MPs Anna Soubry, Huw Merryman and Nikky Morgan in Belfast yesterday on a fact finding mission. Picture Mal McCann.

Three high profile Tory MPs have said that abortion reform in Northern Ireland is a "human rights issue" that should be decriminalised by Westminster in line with the rest of the UK as matter of urgency.

Anna Soubry, Huw Merriman and Nicky Morgan were in Belfast on a visit arranged by Amnesty International and the Family Planning Association.

Next month, a private member's bill will be tabled at Westminster, aiming to remove sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that make abortion a criminal offence.

However, the politicians, who were in Belfast yesterday on a fact gathering visit, stopped short of calling on the British government to legislate for abortion in the absence of restored devolution.

Ms Soubry said the current abortion laws in Northern Ireland "are cruel".

"I think they are callous and they don’t work anyway because we know that 900 women every year are coming over to England and Wales to terminate their pregnancies – and I think that’s appalling, I think that’s barbaric.

"I think a woman in Northern Ireland should have exactly the same rights as any other women in the United Kingdom", she said.

Ms Soubry added that she did not think the current DUP confidence and supply deal with her party would be a political barrier to Westminster led change.

"I don’t think the relationship with the DUP is actually a factor in it".

Her colleague, MP for Loughborough Nikky Morgan said that the visit to Belfast, during which they'd met with medical professionals, lawyers and women who had travelled elsewhere for terminations, had been "enlightening".

"There is no substitute in my experience is actually coming somewhere and listening to people right at the front line, it was very open and informative", she said.

"Opinion among those we met has been really interesting, the public tone has changed in regards to the debate and there is a openness to Westminster having to step in.

"And in relation to the human rights aspect of this it is right for Westminster to step in", Ms Morgan said.

"There's an understanding at Westminster that healthcare is a devolved matter, but the other learning for me during this visit is meeting medical professionals who want to do the best for the women in their care but feel unable to.

"They are potentially left dealing with aftercare when someone has travelled to England but without being able to ask all the relevant questions.

"And so that's why this is a human rights issue and that's why Westminster should step in, de-criminalisation is not the whole answer, and there then needs to be a discussion after that about how women access services", she added.

Mr Merriman said he thought Theresa May wanted to see reform of the Offences Against the Person Act, extended to Northern Ireland which he said had majority support in Westminster.

"I would say to the Prime Minister that this has got to be the right time to get on and act and actually reform and modernise and really help people in a terrible situation", Mr Merriman added.

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