Women’s Reproductive Rights in Northern Ireland

Abortion is an extremely sensitive and emotive issue that engenders passionate views on both sides. For MPs, it is a matter of conscience – an issue on which we decide ourselves how to vote, away from party politics.

As you will be aware, a number of recent cases have highlighted how abortion law in Northern Ireland differs to the rest of the UK. The Abortion Act 1967 does not extend to Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland abortion is currently illegal, other than in cases where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. Guidelines were published in March 2016 by the Northern Ireland Executive which state that access to abortion may also be permitted if there is a permanent or serious risk to the mother’s mental or physical health.

While abortion is devolved to Northern Ireland and the law in this area is therefore a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly, I understand that there is currently a petition, which has attracted over 63,000 signatures and calls for the case against a mother who provided her daughter with abortion medication in Northern Ireland to be dropped. I am aware that there is due to be a judicial review later this year into the decision to criminally prosecute a woman who has been accused of procuring and supplying poison in 2013 with the intent to procure a miscarriage contrary to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

With regard to the specific case you raise in your letter, I will continue to follow it closely and wait for results of the judicial review this autumn.

It is my personal belief that all women in the UK should have the right to choose a safe, legal abortion. I would like the UK Government to work with the Northern Ireland Assembly to extend this right to women in Northern Ireland.

As I am sure you are aware, over 50 MPs from across the political parties signed an amendment to the Queen’s speech organised by Stella Creasy MP (Lab) to grant Northern Irish women NHS-funded abortions in England. The amendment intended to be debated in the House of Commons on 29 June but before this was due to take place the Chancellor announced that the Government will fund abortions for women coming to have them in England from Northern Ireland. The details of that funding and whether it will be distributed via the NHS or a third party abortion provider are not yet clear. Stella Creasy MP withdrew her amendment The Health Secretary had previously said a “consultation” about scrapping the charges was underway but there was subsequent confusion about whether this was the case.

Justine Greening MP, Minister for Women and Equalities, said “Funding for the services will be made available through the government Equalities Office, allowing the Department of Health to commission services in England for those from Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court judgment made clear that we have the power to make these arrangements. The government’s position continues to be that we want to see safe abortion services provided for women who may need them – within the bounds of the law.”

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have also confirmed that they will fund abortions for women resident in Northern Ireland.

The Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto stated that “Labour will continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will work with the Assembly to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland”.

I believe it is important that women considering an abortion receive impartial, non-directive and clinical information on pregnancy. This will allow them to make an informed choice without being pressured into either continuing with their pregnancy or having an abortion.