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I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for raising that. He is absolutely right. The request was made and the Under-Secretary of State said that he would respond, but unfortunately that has not yet happened. That would have been immensely helpful for this debate tonight.
Even in England prior to 1967, back-street abortions were always illegal. Rather than acknowledging the point, however, the Northern Ireland Office has sought rather disingenuously to point to the Northern Ireland guidance as if it offered protection to pregnant women comparable to that of the law. The guidance, however, has no legal weight unless it is referring directly to statute, and for the most part it is merely saying what the NHS, which is under Government control, will do and making suggestions about what everyone else should do.
The suggestion that there is an appropriate substitute for the law is clearly not true and completely inappropriate, given the important matter at hand: women’s safety. While the Northern Ireland Office can encourage people to act in a particular way through guidance, it cannot require people to act.