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MPs vote to hold UK Government to account over Northern Ireland abortion laws

Last night, MPs voted in favour of an amendment to a Government Bill to force the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to account for the failure uphold the human rights of Northern Ireland residents, specifically on access to abortion and same-sex marriage. Humanists UK, which briefed MPs in support of this amendment, has welcomed this outcome.

Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn tabled an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill which makes provision for the exercise of governmental functions in Northern Ireland in the continued absence of a Northern Ireland government. The amendment mandates the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and senior officials to address incompatibilities between legislation applied in Northern Ireland and human rights obligations. This Bill has passed all stages in the House of Commons and will go to the House of Lords for consideration.

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, ‘This is a significant step forward for the people of Northern Ireland. Access to abortion services is a human rights issue, and arguably so is same-sex marriage. These are therefore matters that are rightly within the remit of the UK Parliament to consider. This is particularly true given that we have been almost two years now without a functioning government. This amendment finally holds the Secretary of State and the UK Government to account for its human rights responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland.’

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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