Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:19 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 3:19 pm, 5th June 2018

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady. I know she brought forward her ten-minute rule Bill and that she feels passionately about the issue. I am merely making the point that, as Northern Ireland Secretary, I am looking at this in the context of Northern Ireland. There is a wider debate—that is why Ministers from the Departments affected by the issue of abortion are in the Chamber—and it is extremely sensitive. There are many strongly held views across all sides of the debate, and particularly across all sides of the debate on abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

Let me turn to the referendum in Ireland. It was undoubtedly a significant moment in the history of that country, but its read-across to the situation in the United Kingdom has to be treated with care. On 25 May, Ireland voted to repeal the relevant article of its constitution, commonly known as the eighth amendment, which since 1983 has given unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life. The referendum followed many years of debate and discussion in Ireland, and the process is not yet over. Although a significant majority supported repeal, the proposal now needs to be debated and passed by both Houses of the Irish Parliament to determine what type of reform works best for Ireland. It is important to be clear that what we witnessed was specific to Ireland, where a change to its written constitution requires a referendum.