Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 4:31 pm, 5th June 2018

This is a hugely sensitive issue. Fundamentally, this debate should be about women’s choice on abortion in Northern Ireland. That is why I find it incredible that the one thing Stella Creasy does not ask for is for women in Northern Ireland to have a vote and a say on whether they actually want abortion in Northern Ireland. Yet in her interviews on Sunday, when talking about Brexit, it was clear that she is campaigning for a second referendum—a people’s vote—on whether Brexit should actually happen. Surely it is more key to fight for a referendum on abortion for women in Northern Ireland than for a second referendum on Brexit.

What that shows, as we have heard from several speakers, is that this issue is actually a Trojan horse for what is really wanted—the removal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 would introduce abortion on demand, for any reason, up to 24 weeks. Crucially, that is what this debate is really about, and it is disrespectful to women in Northern Ireland to pretend it is about anything else. That is especially the case in the centenary year of suffrage, because while we celebrate 100 years of women getting the vote, it is only 50 years since the Catholic nationalist community in Northern Ireland got the vote. They had to have a civil rights movement and go through the years of the troubles to have their voice heard, yet in this debate we are actively saying that they cannot have a debate or a say on whether abortion is extended in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.]

The hon. Lady may laugh, but what do the Catholic nationalist community in Northern Ireland get now? They get no representation in this place, despite having a vote, because their elected representatives fail to show up. They get no representation in Stormont on this issue, because their elected representatives have failed to get around the table. Now we are saying to them that they will get no representation on abortion law changes, because we do not want them to have a referendum. We are saying to them that the women in Westminster know best. That is not only insulting, it is undemocratic and flies in the face of women’s rights and women’s choices.

I am very happy to have a debate in this place on all aspects of abortion, but if we are truly serious about having modern abortion laws, let us look at the time limit set in the UK. We have seen following the recent referendum there that the Republic of Ireland will just set its time limit at 12 weeks, as is the case in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland and Slovakia. In the Netherlands it is 13 weeks, in Portugal 16 weeks and in Romania 14 weeks. In a ComRes poll, 70% of women in the United Kingdom said they would like the time limit reduced. If we are going to have a modern-day abortion law, let us have an honest and genuine discussion, and let us not hide behind the pretence that this is about rights for women in Northern Ireland. If women want to change the situation, we should be promoting the idea that they should have the say.

If we are going to have a debate on abortion in the United Kingdom, we need to discuss explicitly banning sex-selective abortions, which proactively discriminate against female babies. We need to equalise the time limits for terminations between those with a disability and those who are able-bodied, and we need a debate about independent counselling. This is about women’s choice and women’s rights—but let us hear about the whole debate, rather than just selective messages from Labour Members.