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

Part of Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 8:20 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scotland Office) (jointly with the Northern Ireland Office) 8:20 pm, 16th October 2019

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As we heard from Lady Hermon at the beginning of the debate, the legislation is already proceeding in the House of Lords, but I have undertaken to write giving more details about the timetable, and I am happy to repeat that undertaking.

Concerns have been raised about supposed backstreet abortions. We should be very clear that repealing criminal offences specifically relating to procuring abortion does not repeal other relevant criminal laws that exist to protect individuals. Medical procedures are carefully regulated and have to be carried out, as has been noted, on regulated premises with appropriate quality and care oversight. The guidance we published should help to support that.

The repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 means that women who take pills without prescription and medical supervision will be able to seek assistance and proper aftercare treatment without fear of prosecution. It will remain an offence under medicines legislation to sell or supply abortion pills online without a prescription. It is also an offence to carry out an abortion where the child is capable of being born alive except where it is necessary to save the woman’s life.

As I said in my opening remarks, we will enhance the travel scheme to enable more women to access services free of charge in England and Wales. The point was made that this is not an ideal situation—it is not a situation that anyone wants to persist—and that is why, in answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Belfast East, services will be available under the framework after March 2020, as required by the law. That is an issue we intend to address. I would say, however, that we believe that the net effect will be to reduce the number of women who might otherwise seek a termination without adequate and appropriate medical assistance; I think Members across the House will welcome that.