Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 3:01 pm, 5th June 2018

I apologise to the House for the fact that I have to leave this debate early, but I could not resist the impassioned call of Stella Creasy for a debate yesterday and the opportunity to take part in it today.

The issue deserves a debate. We should never be afraid to say what we think in this place, particularly on issues of conscience. We need a change. In 2016, 724 women from Northern Ireland travelled from there to England for abortion care. I think that it is wrong that women in Northern Ireland do not have the same access to abortion as my constituents do. I would like to thank Annette Service, the manager at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service in Basingstoke, for writing to me with her impassioned plea for change in this area.

I believe that the situation should not exist. The fact that the same rights are not available in one of the four parts of the UK—not even when it comes to fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest—is difficult to understand. Why, oh why was it decided in 2003 to devolve this sensitive matter, which relates to international obligations, mentioned by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, such as the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the Istanbul convention? It is difficult to understand, even from the Hansard report, the rationale behind why that was done in this way. In many ways, it feels as though the rights of Northern Irish women were traded as part of the devolution settlement.

People in Northern Ireland want change. The Northern Ireland Assembly has acknowledged that and the Department of Justice report, issued in 2015, stated clearly that there was a pressing need to change the criminal law to provide terminations in clearly defined circumstances. The general public want change. The latest Amnesty International poll suggests that 68% of Northern Irish people feel that people should not be punished if they have an abortion. Professional bodies want change, including the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.