Northern Ireland news

Westminster abortion reform supported by political leaders

Sarah Ewart (left), who had to travel to England for an abortion due to fatal foetal abnormality, and Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International who has helped facilitate the visit by Tory MPs.

Senior members of five political parties have issued a joint statement calling for Westminster to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

The statement was released to coincide with a visit by senior members of the Conservative Party to Belfast, to meet with women, midwives and doctors who have been impacted either personally or professionally by restrictive abortion laws.

MPs Anna Soubry, Huw Merriman and Nicky Morgan have said they want to listen to real life stories and experiences and take those back to Westminster "where they will push for change".

Despite a recent UK Supreme Court finding that the Northern Ireland abortion law breaches human rights, the UK Government have yet to commit to updating the North's laws.

MP for Broxtowe Anna Soubry said it was "ultimately the people of Northern Ireland who are affected by the restrictive abortion law there, which is why we’re in Belfast to listen first hand to the women, midwives and doctors who find themselves harmed and compromised by the near-total ban on abortion.

"Women and girls in Northern Ireland are not second-class citizens", she added.

Huw Merriman, the MP for Bexhill and Battle, said abortion is "a healthcare and human rights issue".

"Whilst our preference has been that a devolved government addressed this, the fact is Stormont has not sat since January 2017 and Parliament has responsibilities to legislate for, and represent, citizens in every part of the UK where devolution does not apply or operate. Women cannot wait.”

The visit is being hosted by Amnesty International UK and the Family Planning Association.

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty said; "This visit has huge significance for the people of Northern Ireland who have so far been let down by the UK Government's inaction on abortion law reform.

"Since Ireland voted to change their restrictive law, we’ve heard nothing but silence from the UK Government on whether women and girls in Northern Ireland will be given access to free, safe and legal services in Northern Ireland. It is wrong to insist abortion is a matter for a devolved administration".

Representatives of Sinn Féin, Alliance Party, UUP and SDLP said they are "concerned about the harm being caused to women living under the existing Victorian era legislation which makes abortion illegal in almost every circumstance".

Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill, Colum Eastwood of the SDLP, Alliance leader Naomi Long and Doug Beattie of the UUP, jointly signed the statement saying the 919 women "who travelled to England in 2017 for this healthcare service and countless others purchased abortion pills online, in doing so risked prosecution".

"We call on UK Government to decriminalise abortion by repealing sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and to ensure a human rights compliant framework governing access to abortion", they stated.

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