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Parliament debates liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland

Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy has led an emergency debate in the House of Commons on legislating for free, safe, and legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland. Several members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) including Jess Phillips, Karyn Smith, Angela Eagle, and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, intervened in the debate having been briefed by Northern Ireland Humanists and Humanists UK earlier this week.  They all supported calls for the UK Government to bring forward legislation for the realisation of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Northern Ireland.

The law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe and the criminal sanctions imposed are amongst the harshest in the world, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. Current restrictions force women to either travel to the UK to receive treatment, risk prosecution for procuring illegal online abortion pills, or continue their pregnancies against their wishes and in violation of their rights. There is no exception made for pregnancies that arise as a result of sexual crime or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

Summing up a crucial point in the debate, Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts stated, ‘the decision to criminalise abortion is a human rights question and thus a reserved matter for Westminster.’ This was a point explained by Northern Ireland Humanists and Humanists UK in its briefing to MPs earlier this week. Northern Ireland’s abortion restrictions contravene the UK’s human rights obligations, as found by the United Nations. Whether the Assembly is in operation or not, or if abortion is a devolved matter or not, the responsibility for upholding human rights across the United Kingdom rests with the UK Government. It is its responsibility to ensure that all violations are redressed.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley MP confirmed that there would be a free vote for Conservative MPs if this issue was to come before the House of Commons.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘The result of the referendum in the Republic of Ireland has made the restrictions on free, safe, and legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland even more untenable than it was before. It is time for the UK Government to not only recognise that access to reproductive healthcare including abortion is a human rights issue but also take action to fix the continuing violation of these rights in Northern Ireland.’

‘Northern Ireland Humanists and Humanists UK will continue to put pressure on the UK Government to enact this long overdue legislative change.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on rachel@humanism.org.uk or 07951 176 245, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on boyd.sleator@nihumanists.org or on 07470 395090.

Humanist UK has set up a template letter to be sent to Theresa May calling for abortion reform in Northern Ireland: https://humanism.org.uk/what-you-can-do-to-help/nowforni/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

Humanists UK intervened  in a case before the Supreme Court, brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) against the Northern Ireland Government, which focused on whether abortion should be legal in the cases of (i) women with pregnancies where the foetus cannot survive birth, (ii) women whose pregnancies arise from rape or incest, and (iii) women with serious malformation of the foetus. A judgement on this case is pending.

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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