Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 5:10 pm, 5th June 2018

I pay tribute to Stella Creasy and all those who have been brave enough to speak in this debate. I also pay tribute to those in the women’s sector in Northern Ireland who are watching on. They are the most tremendous bunch of feminists, and I encourage everyone to meet them.

I will speak briefly about the impact of women not having the right to choose and what happens when their options are restricted. The restriction of child tax credits and the child element of universal credit to the first two children in a family is a cruel policy that I am well on record as opposing, but we do not often discuss the choices that that drives women to make. The benefits helpline Turn2us surveyed callers affected by the two-child policy, and 700 people said that it affected their decision to have another child. A number of women had opted for abortions of wanted babies rather than pursue a pregnancy that they felt they could not afford. Some with religious beliefs or whose pregnancies were too far along could not do the same. It is abhorrent, despicable and cruel that this UK Government policy is forcing women to terminate pregnancies, but the fact remains that, unlike women in Scotland, England and Wales, women in Northern Ireland are not afforded that choice.

Jess Phillips talked compassionately about the women who travel, but that option is not open to all. Those who are in poverty, those in abusive relationships, single parents and those with childcare issues, insecure immigration status or a disability often cannot travel. They cannot afford to or they practically cannot travel, and they may then take pills bought over the internet. The most marginalised women are now also the most likely to be criminalised. The situation is unsustainable and must be challenged.

For historical reasons, the average family size in Northern Ireland is higher than in the rest of the UK, and the two-child policy has a disproportionate effect. There is a certain irony that DUP Members are propping up the Tories and supporting social security cuts that will leave families less able to provide for their children, while opposing changes to abortion law. The two-child policy will put 250,000 more children into poverty by 2020, and families will lose out by at least £2,780.

Women in Northern Ireland are left in a trap. They are unable to access child tax credits or abortions, and women in particular circumstances of abuse cannot access contraception. The hon. Member for Walthamstow said that it is almost as though we are in Gilead, and some women find themselves with very little control over their reproductive rights. I trust women. I believe in their right to choose, and I hope that the Supreme Court does as well. Our sisters in Northern Ireland have been left behind and left out for far too long. I urge that progress is made on this issue as a matter of urgency.