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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 Section 3(5)

Part of Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 7:34 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 7:34 pm, 16th October 2019

I hope they can, because then the Minister could answer the words of Lyra McKee’s partner, who said:

“It seems that pleas from people who have seen their loved ones murdered mean a lot less than the demand of church men desperate to repress women.”

Lyra McKee’s family are deeply concerned by the way in which her memory and legacy have been used in the debate.

The Minister has to show us, not just by next Monday, but until March next year, that he is prepared to uphold what is in the legislation about acting expeditiously to protect the human rights of women in Northern Ireland. That is not the same as giving powers to the Assembly to deal with it. That is not what is in the Act. He needs to be honest that that is how the Government now intend to deal with it and get the House’s approval for that.

The consequences of not doing that are very real for women in Northern Ireland. The Minister knows that, right now, we cannot tell women in Northern Ireland who might need an abortion how they will access that service next Tuesday. He and I have talked about the issue of pills. We are all worried about women accessing products online that may not be safe. In 1967, when the House legislated to exempt women in England and Wales from prosecution, we did not say, “Look, it’s okay, you can continue to have a backstreet abortion, but at least you will be able to go to a doctor.” We recognised the importance of making sure that people could access safe procedures. Yet it is very clear that that will not be the case for women in Northern Ireland from next week.

Many hon. Members will have heard the brave words of Sarah Ewart, who had to take our country to the High Court because her rights were violated. She had a fatal foetal abnormality and she was not able to seek support in her home nation of Northern Ireland to deal with that. Indeed, when faced with that horrific prognosis, the response that she got from doctors was, “I’m not going to get prosecuted to help you.”

Hand on heart, none of us can say that from next week that situation will change for women in Northern Ireland. Indeed, with hand on heart, many of us have to look Sarah Ewart in the eye, because the Supreme Court has said that it will wait to see what happens with this legislation before acting to see whether the Government have to uphold the human rights of women in Northern Ireland. What a shameful situation that we are still quibbling over treating our fellow UK citizens with dignity and respect, in the way that we would expect for our constituents here in England and Wales.

There is nothing in the legislation that will change the time limits and nothing that will change the existing medical regulations that would allow abortion to take place. It simply removes the criminal element and sees this as a medical matter. It sees women as able to make choices over their own bodies, just as men would wish to do.