Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:20 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland) 5:20 pm, 5th June 2018

I, too, thank Stella Creasy and everyone who supported her in securing this debate. It is of vital importance, not in a party political sense—or any political sense—but in a human rights sense. Two issues are involved here. The first is that it is simply appalling in 2018 that abortion is still treated as a criminal issue, rather than a medical one. More than 100 years—only just more—after women were given the vote, we are here debating an Act from 1861 when not only was it all men in the Chamber who decided, but it was all men who voted for all the men in the Chamber to decide. The other issue is that even now women in Northern Ireland are the only women in the UK who are denied a fundamental human right: the right to choose—the right to control their own bodies.

I have heard the debate about devolution. Even as someone who has campaigned consistently for devolution and whose party has campaigned tirelessly for it, I cannot find myself supporting that argument. I listened to what Deidre Brock had to say, but then I listened to what Jess Phillips said and thought, “If I were one of those women sitting at home listening to us today, what would matter to me more: devolution and a political principle; or my human rights?” The answer would be my human rights and my right to choose. It would be my daughter’s human rights, my niece’s human rights and the human rights of every woman I know above a political principle.

If that is not enough, perhaps we should look at what the legislation says, because human rights are not devolved. There is a precedent from 2007. When the DUP blocked the EU gender directive, Westminster stepped in and intervened. Legislation also gives the UK Parliament responsibility for meeting international obligations such as United Nations treaties ratified by the UK. UN bodies have found that Northern Ireland abortion law is incompatible with human rights treaties ratified by this Parliament. That is also the view of Amnesty International, which has said:

“Northern Ireland laws have been repeatedly found by UN treaty monitoring bodies to be in significant violation of the various human rights treaties the UK is state party to.”

We are not trying to usurp the rights of the Stormont Parliament; it is not sitting at the moment—