I have recently received lots of emails regarding abortion and equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland. 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.
It is devastating to know that every week, 28 women must make the journey overseas to access care despite the fact 65% of adults in Northern Ireland agree that abortion should not be a crime. Polls also demonstrate a surge in support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland. Indeed, in April 2018 a poll demonstrated that fewer than one in five people in Northern Ireland are now opposed to equal marriage.
Previously, the UK Government insisted that the laws in this area is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, after the UN has repeatedly stated that the UK is violating human rights in Northern Ireland there has recently been a cross-party amendment compelling the government to bring forward regulations to decriminalise abortion and legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. I backed both the same-sex marriage and abortion amendments (NC1 and NC2). While I am pleased that both amendments passed, neither amendment automatically changes the law in Northern Ireland.
My Labour colleagues Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy proposed that if Stormont is not restored by 21 October, then the government should legislate for same-sex marriage and decriminalising abortion – on the condition that a future assembly could overturn or amend the law. If this is the case, there would not have to be a further vote on the matter, as it would come in the form of secondary legislation and would go straight for approval to the House of Lords.
These are incredibly important concerns and I believe it is wrong that issues of human rights and social justice that are enjoyed naturally in other parts of the UK are being denied to citizens in Northern Ireland. My Labour colleagues and I will continue working on these issues to ensure that they become a reality in Northern Ireland. 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.