Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe 4:23 pm, 5th June 2018

I will not take any interventions because Mr Speaker has been quite firm with me, and I am keen to curry favour with him—it would make a change.

There is an important point to make. Nobody happily, willingly skips into a clinic to terminate a pregnancy. Invariably, they do so after a heartrending, thoughtful process, often with a partner, a boyfriend or even their own parents. We must recognise that reality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said, the reality is that if we make abortions illegal, they do not stop. Members know that from the evidence in Northern Ireland: 724 women went overseas in 2016 to have terminations.

Before the ’67 Act was passed, women—living, breathing human beings—died in their hundreds of thousands at the hands of backstreet abortionists, or found themselves in a position where they were damaged and could never again have the child that they often longed for, but at a time that suited them and their circumstances. That is what that Act was all about, and those rights should now be extended to Northern Ireland. It is 2018, and I gently say to them: your laws are cruel and repressive. They do nothing for the advancement of women or for families, and they have to change.

What Stella Creasy is suggesting—I congratulate her on it—delivers exactly the thing that should happen. It is what Diana Johnson eloquently and properly advocated in her ten-minute rule Bill: getting rid of these ridiculous and ancient laws that criminalise abortion. That is the right thing to do. Let us get rid of them. The beauty in doing that is that it strengthens devolution, because the responsibility for sorting out what happens in Northern Ireland will go back to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I thought that I was going to stand up and make a speech about the importance of devolution and why it is not the job of this Parliament to do what the hon. Member for Walthamstow suggests, but actually she has convinced me. She is absolutely right. What she suggests delivers the right thing to advance our abortion legislation and, secondly, strengthens devolution, because it hands this straight back to where it should be—the Northern Ireland Assembly. I gently say to them: get it sorted out, because this will not be tolerable any longer in our nation. We are a United Kingdom. We believe in the Union. Get that Assembly up and running. Do the right thing, not just by the people of Northern Ireland, and the women in particular, but for the security and furtherance of this great Union.