Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland, except when a pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or there is a permanent or serious risk to the mother’s physical or mental health.
I completely agree with everyone who has contacted me to state that women should have the right to choose a safe, legal abortion and I would like to see the laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland reformed.
The UK Government has consistently stated its view that the law in this area is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, issues concerning human rights and other international legal commitments are not devolved and the UN has repeatedly said that the UK is violating women’s rights in Northern Ireland by restricting access to abortion.
This is also the judgement of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom which last year considered a challenge over the legality of Northern Ireland’s abortion law. Although the challenge was rejected on technical grounds, the court’s judgement was clear that the law in Northern Ireland violates fundamental human rights.
A recent report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee argued that devolution does not remove the UK Government’s own responsibilities to comply with its international obligations.
I welcome the formal political talks which have now begun to restore an Executive in Northern Ireland and I hope this process will be successful in re-establishing devolved government as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, this is as much a human rights issue as it is a healthcare issue, and so I believe it would be legitimate for the UK Parliament to legislate for progressive reforms in Northern Ireland on abortion.
I believe that the UK Government should act on the moral and legal basis of upholding international human rights and ensure that all UK women have the right to access an abortion. Of course, this should be done in consultation with Northern Ireland’s political leaders and wider civic society.
The UK Government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this injustice, which denies women in Northern Ireland their fundamental rights, upheld across the rest of the UK.