I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the role of the UK Parliament in repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
I want to start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for granting this debate and all the Members who have given their cross-party support. I have always believed that abortion is a non-partisan issue, and I want to pay tribute to the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for their work on this issue, and in particular my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, who has led the efforts on decriminalisation.
There are many issues ahead of us today: decriminalisation, devolution and domestic abuse, but above all, it is about a particular “d”—dignity: the dignity of women to be able to choose for themselves what to do with their own bodies. I am proud to have been able to work on this issue with the Alliance for Choice, the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Family Planning Association, Marie Stopes and Amnesty International. We have not stopped planning for this since last year’s vote to secure access for Northern Irish women to abortion here on the NHS. The truth is that we knew that that solution did not answer the test that Arlene Foster herself has set, to ensure that the men and women of Northern Ireland are not treated differently by the United Kingdom Government.
But it is the impact of the Irish referendum that brings us here today. The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed the yes vote in Ireland a week ago, saying that Ireland will no longer say to women, “Take the boat” or “Take the plane” when they need an abortion. Instead, he said, Ireland will say, “Take our hand.” It is now time for us to offer our hands to the women of Northern Ireland in the same way. They are women who face a situation where if they are raped and seek a termination, they will face a longer prison sentence than their attacker; women who, when they have a heartbreaking diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality, have to go abroad to seek treatment; and women who are currently on trial. Indeed, the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was in an abusive relationship is currently being prosecuted for buying her daughter misoprostol online.