Decriminalisation of Abortion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health) 1:00 pm, 23rd July 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank my hon. Friend Diana Johnson for and congratulate her on securing this urgent question, and thank her for her tireless campaigning on this issue. I share her disappointment that no Home Office Minister was available to respond to this urgent question; waiting for a call is obviously more important. I thank the British Pregnancy Advisory Service for its excellent work on this issue, and for its new campaign, launched today, called #PunishedForPills.

Following the passage yesterday of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, we find ourselves with a discrepancy across the UK when it comes to abortion. As we have heard, sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 no longer apply in Northern Ireland, but still apply in England and Wales, which means that if a woman does not seek the permission of two doctors before having an abortion, she could face up to life imprisonment in Britain, but not in Northern Ireland. The same goes for women who access abortion pills online. There are a whole host of reasons why women may do that, including not being able to get an appointment at a clinic, which now happens more and more often; not having childcare; living in a rural area; or being in an abusive relationship. Although women in Northern Ireland will no longer be persecuted for accessing abortion pills, the same cannot be said for women in Britain. I know this issue does not fall under the Minister’s brief, but will she ensure that abortion will be decriminalised, but not deregulated, throughout the UK? That would increase access to and the safety of abortions for women throughout the UK.

No one takes abortion lightly—this is a very sensitive issue—but I am sure that we in the House can all agree that women deserve access to safe and legal health procedures, and that includes abortion. A woman’s right to choose is a human rights matter. We need to seize on the momentum of the great result in the Republic of Ireland and deliver equality of rights for women throughout the UK and equality of resources across the whole NHS. The Government need to make this a landmark year in which women’s reproductive rights are fully respected and realised. That is why I call on the Government to repeal sections 58 and 59 today, to make abortion rights equal throughout the UK.