It is 2018 and in every country in the UK a woman who ends her own pregnancy can be sent to prison for life under laws created before women could even vote. The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 still governs abortion, putting it in the same position as rape, child-stealing, and blowing somebody up with gunpowder. Under this law, a woman who buys pills online to end her own pregnancy can be given a life sentence.I live in Northern Ireland, and I am asking you, as a government Minister, to use your platform to make clear that this is morally, socially, and legally unacceptable and support Diana Johnson MP's cross-party 10 Minute Rule Bill, co-sponsored by Crispin Blunt and Sarah Wollaston, on the 23rd October.I am also asking that you support amendment NC2 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Function) Bill which is tabled for this Wednesday 24th October. This amendment seeks to allow for a FREE VOTE - as promised by the Prime Minister - on the issues of abortion, and also same sex marriage, in Northern Ireland. If passed, this amendment would not change the law in NI, but allow for parliamentary time for these issues to be fully debated and receive a meaningful vote. This amendment has been tabled by Stella Creasy MP and Conor McGinn MP.
A cross-party 10 Minute Rule Bill introduced by Diana Johnson MP and co-sponsored by MPs from 5 different parties will, if passed, bring abortion law up to date – not just in England and Wales but also in Northern Ireland where I live, where women are almost entirely unable to access abortion care. Since England and Wales got access to legal abortion in 1968, more than 60,000 women have been forced to travel from Northern Ireland to England and Wales to access this essential service.
At least three women in Northern Ireland have been prosecuted under abortion laws in the last three years, including a woman who bought pills online for her then-15 year old daughter who was in an abusive relationship. This is one of the many reasons that the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recently called for the UK government to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, as this bill does.
This Bill would not change the time limit, it would not affect the rights of medical professionals to opt out of providing abortion services (in fact it would extend them to Northern Ireland), and it would allow Stormont, when reconstituted, to make their own framework for provision. It brings the UK into line with countries like Canada, Australia, the USA, and much of Europe in not punishing women for ending their pregnancies. It also introduces new offences of using violence or deceit to cause a non-consensual abortion – tackling violent partners who cause women to have miscarriages.
This Bill brings our abortion laws up to date – making clear that abortion is a medical decision made between a woman and her doctor, and not one that should be governed by the courts.
As somebody who lives in Northern Ireland, with no other politicians to speak for them, I am asking you to pledge to support this Bill on the 23rd October.Please also consider supporting amendment NC2 to allow for a FREE VOTE on abortion and equal marriage in Northern Ireland.