Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:39 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 2:39 pm, 5th June 2018

If I may, I will happily come on to the question about rights and to the moral debate on abortion. I recognise that there are different opinions within the House and indeed within Northern Ireland on this issue, which is why this is not a partisan issue. If I may, I will finish my point and then come on to exactly that.

The Government are currently consulting on the domestic abuse legislation. Indeed, I previously met the former Home Secretary to discuss this and the opportunity that Bill presents for us to make progress. I understand Ministers’ concern to stop abortion being used to control women, so their interest in OAPA in relation to this legislation was perhaps different from mine. I would also highlight to Ministers that the Serious Crimes Act 2015 criminalises controlling or coercive behaviour in family or intimate relationships. I would argue that the men prosecuted under OAPA for intentionally causing the loss of a wanted pregnancy could well have been prosecuted under the existing assault law.

Furthermore, organisations like Women’s Aid and End Violence Against Women both support decriminalisation, because they recognise that current criminalisation puts vulnerable women at risk. A study has showed that one in five women who bought pills online did so because they were in a violent or controlling relationship. We do not protect women by criminalising them. That is why so many medical bodies are also calling for decriminalisation; the royal colleges and the British Medical Association are just some of them. Indeed, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has argued that the legal situation in Northern Ireland means its healthcare professionals “struggle to provide” the support they would like to give women who need an abortion or to manage any post-abortion complications safely. We also know that this is the view of the Northern Irish public. The majority—whether individuals from any particular political background, religious background, age or ethnicity—would like abortion to be managed as a medical rather than a criminal issue.

I have respect for people who hold a different view on abortion itself and the role that it plays in equality, but I see abortion as an equalities issue, because men and women will never truly be free while one cannot control what happens to their own body. Indeed, as the residents of Gilead have shown us, that is fundamental to human rights. I therefore make no apology for putting the safety and dignity of women first, as part of equality between the sexes.

I know I will get abuse online for saying so because, frankly, women get the blame whatever we do in such situations. Indeed, judging by the emails I have had today, it is either my or my mother’s fault. I made the mistake that many MPs make of actually reading my emails today:

“Your views are a disgrace to humanity and the betrayal of the truly innocent. Woman can always say no or keep their clothes on!!”

“You madame were once an Embryo, You madame were once a fetus in your mother’s womb;
You were once a PRE-BORN baby.”

“I wonder what decision you would have wanted your mother to make about your life or death had she been given the opportunity in the months before you were born?”

I respect those who disagree with abortion on all grounds as a matter of faith, and I make this simple point to those who think only of the extremes: if they support access to abortion only in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, in essence their concern is more about the manner in which a woman became pregnant than about abortion. Why does it matter if we trust women and give them the chance to control their own bodies rather than being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy? Because it is about freedom. So shout at me all you want—this is not Gilead, and we should not be frightened to speak up for the equal rights of women. Not to do so is to put women’s lives and liberation at risk.

The truth is that, in 2018, we still do not trust our own women. This is the one healthcare decision that no UK woman can make on her own. That is why the UN has called on us to repeal these specific sections of law; no Assembly, nor indeed this place, can make any progressive law for itself on this subject without doing so. In supporting this proposal, every Member can send a message that, in 2018, all the women of the UK deserve to be treated as equal citizens.