Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons) 3:09 pm, 5th June 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. In truth, if what is proposed under this motion was to actually happen, it would have dramatic consequences for Northern Ireland. That is absolutely clear and I think even the mover of the motion acknowledged there would be a very significant gap. We need to have this debate in Northern Ireland: a reasoned debate that engages the political parties and civil society, so we can collect the voices and come to a decision on how best to proceed with regard to the law on abortion. In the Northern Ireland Executive, the DUP supported the establishment of the expert working group, which has now published its report specifically on the question of unborn children diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. We are considering that report, which has recently been published, and the key recommendations it makes.

This is a very sensitive area and women in receipt of such devastating diagnoses deserve our utmost sympathy and our support. No one could fail to be moved by the harrowing cases of those who have found themselves in such tragic circumstances. We want to develop a new Northern Ireland-wide service for women in those circumstances to ensure that they receive the best information, advice and co-ordinated care and to ease their journey through our health care system. I am keen to ensure that we enhance our perinatal palliative care, with a view to Northern Ireland becoming an exemplar in this area.

We want to listen to the voices of civil society. We want to listen to what people have to say—the voices of women like Sarah Ewart, who has spoken passionately about her own experience of pregnancy and abortion in the most difficult of circumstances and has argued for change in cases involving unborn children with life-limiting conditions. I also refer to the voice of my own constituent who wrote to me last evening on hearing about this debate:

“Apparently there is to be a discussion in the Commons on our abortion laws. As the daughter of a rape victim and an unrepresented Catholic I would ask that you take a positive pro-life stance and protect the most vulnerable in our society.”

There are strong voices on both sides of this debate. This is a devolved issue. It should be left to the people of Northern Ireland.