Northern Ireland news

Sarah Ewart: 'Weight lifted off my shoulders' after MPs vote to make abortion lawful

Campaigners Sarah Ewart (left) and Grainne Teggart watching a House of Commons vote for legislation which will liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion laws. Picture by Rebecca Black, Press Association
Rebecca Black, Press Association

A WOMAN who has campaigned for six years to liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion laws broke down in tears as the House of Commons passed legislation to repeal a law which made terminations a crime.

A majority of MPs yesterday voted for the Northern Ireland (Executive Powers) Bill, which was designed to allow Secretary of State Karen Bradley to delay calling fresh assembly elections.

Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn spearheaded amendments to make abortion lawful and also to allow same-sex marriage in the north.

The bill was passed by 328 votes to 65.

The vote was welcomed by pro-choice campaigners, but described as "disgraceful" by a pro-life lobby group.

Of the 11 MPs from Northern Ireland who take their seats, seven of the 10 DUP MPs voted against, two acted as tellers for the noes, while independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon voted for the amendments.

Abortion is now set to be decriminalised in Northern Ireland from October 22, although consultation is expected to take place on how women will be able to obtain access to a termination.

Abortions are currently only allowed in very limited circumstances.

Sarah Ewart, a Belfast woman who has been campaigning for six years for changes to the north's abortion laws, watched the proceedings from her home in Belfast.

She wept and was embraced by Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International who supported her campaign, as the results of the vote was announced.

"I feel massively relieved, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. This has been six years we have been trying to get some change and finally Westminster are going to act and give women here the healthcare we deserve," she told PA.

Ms Teggart described it as a "momentous day" for human rights in Northern Ireland.

"Today is a hugely significant day, we have been fighting through the courts and building cross-party support at Westminster for the past number of years so we are just delighted that the amendments have passed by such a landslide majority," she said.

Ms Ewart travelled to England in October 2013 for a termination after being denied one in Northern Ireland, despite doctors saying her baby would not survive outside the womb.

"October is a month I will never forget for the rest of my life, I welcome this change and I am so relieved that women are not going to have to go through what I went through," she said.

However, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) Northern Ireland blasted the vote last night as a "disgraceful abuse of power by Westminster".

"It is outrageous that MPs and peers from England, Scotland and Wales cared so little for the rule of law that an overwhelming majority were prepared to disregard the right of the people of Northern Ireland to maintain legislation which has saved the lives of over 100,000 children since 1967," said Liam Gibson.

Meanwhile, same-sex marriage campaigners in Northern Ireland put full celebrations on hold after the latest Commons vote.

Further progress was made yesterday but the draft legislation has not yet become law, the Love Equality group said.

The bill, which would introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if the Executive is not restored by October 21, is expected to return to the House of Lords on Monday.

John O'Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project, part of the Love Equality coalition, said: "We will not fully celebrate until this Bill finally becomes law, but we want to thank every MP who voted 'yes' today and every supporter who has helped us reach this point."

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