Abortion in Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:25 am on 25th March 2021.

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Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 11:25 am, 25th March 2021

I thank Carla Lockhart for raising this important issue. We respect the dearly held convictions of all those who make their case today, but it is important to remember how we reached this point. The existing laws, according to the United Nations, amounted to a “grave and systematic” violation of women’s rights in Northern Ireland. This Parliament had and still has a duty to act to uphold those rights.

The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy gave women in Northern Ireland a right to a safe, local abortion. Parliament made its will clear. No longer will we ask women to use unsafe, unregulated services or to make a heartbreaking journey across the Irish sea to seek an abortion in Britain. That was why the vote on that amendment tabled by my hon. Friend passed overwhelmingly. It was the clear will of this House.

Nineteen months on from that vote, it is extraordinary that women and girls are still being denied safe, local services. We know of more than 100 women who have been denied access to services, leaving them in the desperate situation of travelling alone across the Irish sea or accessing unregulated medicine online. The cycle of inaction must end, so I urge Ministers in Northern Ireland to commission these vital services.

The cross-party letter supporting the Secretary of State’s decision to step in demonstrates the continued strength of feeling across the House. The Government will have our full support when the regulations come before the House for a vote, but I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could provide a date for when that is likely to be. Can he also outline the deadline for when he intends to use the powers contained within the regulations if services have not been commissioned in Northern Ireland? Will it be before the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission takes him to court in May?

As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I fully understand the sensitivities around the devolution settlement. The United Kingdom is at its best when we work together to uphold fundamental rights, and those obligations lie with this Parliament and with the UK Government. Labour has always been clear that where those rights are being denied, there is a moral and legal duty for the Government to act. That is happening now in Northern Ireland. Quality healthcare is a basic human right. The time to act has long come and gone. For the sake of women and girls in Northern Ireland, it is vital that access to these services is commissioned immediately.