Public Petition: Campaign for Abortion Law Reform in Northern Ireland

Assembly Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker 10:30 am, 22nd November 2016

Ms Clare Bailey has sought leave to present a public petition in accordance with Standing Order 22. The Member will have up to three minutes to speak.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I am handing in this petition from Amnesty International to the Minister of Justice. It is signed by 45,400 people and calls for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland. Amnesty International, academics and many others have carried out extensive research into Northern Ireland's abortion laws, and we have repeatedly been found not to be compliant with the Human Rights Act, to which we are signatories. Even our courts have ruled on the issue, and again we have been found to be in breach of the human rights that we claim to uphold.

Since Marie Stopes opened its doors in Belfast city centre in 2012, people have begun to understand that abortion is not always illegal here and have started to question the issue as a whole, and our laws in particular. Amnesty International's public petition sets out a few facts. Northern Ireland's abortion laws are among the harshest in Europe and violate the basic human rights of women and girls. Abortion is illegal even in pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or where the foetus has no chance of surviving. Only in extremely restrictive cases in which a woman's health or life is in serious danger can she choose to access a termination. Instead of accessing the free, safe and legal healthcare that they need and would get on the NHS anywhere else in the UK, women here are forced by state law to carry the pregnancy to term or to travel elsewhere, with no regard to the psychological or physical impact on them or their family.

Midwives and doctors also face the great threat in our law of life imprisonment for involvement in any termination. Even every stillbirth in Northern Ireland is legally required to undergo a pathologist's post-mortem, and, if the parents refuse that, they face a public hearing with a coroner's autopsy, for which no consent is required. There is nowhere else in the world where that happens.

The petition from Amnesty, which 45,400 people have signed, calls on us to bring existing law into line with international human rights laws and standards, to make abortion available in cases of rape, incest or severe and fatal foetal impairment and to stop the criminalisation of women and girls who access abortion services. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland trust women to make these decisions in their best interests, and it is time that the House did the same.

Ms Bailey moved forward and laid the petition on the Table.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I will forward a copy of the petition to the Minister of Justice and the Committee for Justice.