Abortion in Northern Ireland
Abortion in Northern Ireland

Thank you for contacting me about abortion rights in Northern Ireland. Abortion is a sensitive and emotive issue and I respect that there are strongly held views on all sides of the debate.

My personal belief is that those who want one should have the right to choose a safe, legal abortion in all areas of the UK.

It is important for me to start by saying that I have supported the equalisation of rights for women in Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK, and voted in favour of the amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill. As Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland I spoke in Parliament on this issue, please follow this link to see a clip of my speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTYkz0_MBeo

Women in Northern Ireland have waited decades for the same rights as women in the rest of the UK. I feel strongly and believe that it is my responsibility to support women across the UK to protect their freedom of choice over their own bodies

As you may know, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 required the UK Government, in the then absence of a devolved government, to reform abortion laws in Northern Ireland. As the Northern Ireland Executive was not restored by 21 October 2019, the legal duty placed on the UK Government to extend access to abortion services in Northern Ireland came into effect. The changes to abortion laws were in line with recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

The UK Government therefore introduced the new legal framework for abortion services in Northern Ireland, required under law, and this came into force in March 2020. This followed a consultation, during which Northern Ireland Office officials engaged with stakeholders including the Northern Ireland Department of Health, healthcare professionals, the all-Ireland Church Leaders Group, abortion service providers, and individuals with personal experience.

I recognise concerns around the devolution settlement. However, this does not change the legal obligation placed on the UK Government to implement abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

This year, the UK Government introduced the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022, on the grounds the current provision falls far short of what is legally required. These remove the need for approval by the Northern Ireland Executive before abortion services can be commissioned and funded by the Department of Health and give the Secretary of State the powers of an NI Minister when ensuring legal compliance on this subject with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

I support the 2022 regulations. They are a matter of practicality and about delivering existing law. I believe stronger political leadership in Northern Ireland could have solved this issue more quickly, and I would welcome immediate action from the UK Government to get services in Northern Ireland commissioned.

The UK Government has stated the Northern Ireland government must now give an absolute commitment to provide abortion services or it will take action soon.

Ultimately I never take any decision that will impact on abortion rights lightly and am always open to a healthy and respectful dialogue. Ultimately I believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

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