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Northern Ireland abortion bill passes first vote in Commons

Today, MPs voted 208 to 123 in favour of a Bill to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation in Northern Ireland. The Bill will now proceed to the Second Reading stage in the House of Commons in November. If passed into law, it would remove abortion from criminal law, allowing abortion to be governed by medical regulation, like all other medical procedures and in line with best medical practice. Humanists UK, which briefed MPs in support of the Bill, has welcomed this outcome and hopes to see this Bill become statute.

The Bill was introduced by Labour MP Diana Johnson and is supported by a cross-party coalition of MPs, including the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Crispin Blunt.

Tomorrow, MPs will also vote on an amendment to another bill which seeks to hold the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland accountable for the failure to uphold Northern Ireland citizens’ human rights with respect to abortion, as well as same-sex marriage.

Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists are supporting both efforts, and the #NowforNI campaign that has been launched in their favour.

Abortion law 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. It is only legal in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. A Supreme Court judgment earlier this year said that for human rights reasons, abortion must become legal in the cases of rape or incest, or where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

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.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘We are delighted that this Bill has passed through its first parliamentary hurdle with such strong support. Although Private Members’ Bills infrequently become law, this vote is an encouraging sign that there is strong support for abortion reform within Parliament. We will continue to campaign for this change until it makes the statue books.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 0781 55 89 636, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on boyd.sleator@nihumanists.org or on 07918 975 795.

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

Humanists UK recently intervened in a Northern ireland abortion case. Read more at https://humanism.org.uk/2018/09/18/humanists-uk-to-intervene-in-northern-ireland-abortion-case/

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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