Dark day as Commons votes to impose abortion on NI and threaten decriminalisation in England and Wales

10 July 2019


uk parliament votes to extend abortion and same sex marriage rights to northern ireland
MPs voted by 332 votes to 99 to pass the amendment.

A shameful amendment which would see abortion imposed upon Northern Ireland has passed through the House of Commons.

What happened?

Last night, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of a clause inserted into the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill by pro-abortion MP Stella Creasy. 

This clause commits the government to amend the abortion law in Northern Ireland by bringing it into line with the recommendations contained in a report issued in 2018 by the United Nations treaty monitoring committee on the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Among other measures, this report  calls for the repeal of section 58 and section 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. This means that as well as imposing abortion on Northern Ireland, abortion could be decriminalised in England and Wales.

The amendment passed through the House by 332 votes to 99, and is being debated in the House of Lords this evening. SPUC is asking supporters to write to peers asking them to oppose this measure.

Bill hijacked

SPUC’s Northern Ireland Political Officer Liam Gibson explains: “The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill is being fast-tracked through Parliament in the hope that it will provide more time for the political parties to come to a deal on the restoration of devolution. It was never intended that this procedure should be used to deal with such a contentious issue as the decriminalisation of abortion. With practically no time to consider its full implications, this Bill is now set to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. 

“If this Bill becomes law it will strip all meaningful legal protection from unborn children at least until the 24th week and possibly beyond,” he continued.

“It is outrageous that this clause was ever selected for a vote by the Speaker’s office. It is even more outrageous that MPs from England, Scotland and Wales cared so little for the principles of devolution that an overwhelming majority were prepared to disregard the right of the people of Northern Ireland to determine for themselves what our abortion laws should be.”

Not just about Northern Ireland

The inappropriateness of using this bill to legislate for abortion was noted even by MPs who support expanding abortion access. Maria Miller, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee said that the amendment has “significant repercussions not only in Northern Ireland but in England. I ask hon. Members to consider whether this Bill is the most appropriate avenue to make such a fundamental change… it does not feel right to me to make these changes through a Bill that has absolutely nothing to do with England and Wales, on a matter that is fundamental to many hon. Members who are probably not here today because they might not have realised the implications of her new clause.”

Mrs Miller also noted that “New clause 10, to put it bluntly, asks the Government to cut and paste the CEDAW report into legislation. I do not think that that would really work, not least because it has profound effects for England and Wales as well.”

Unpacking the lies

Pro-life MPs also discussed the CEDAW committee report. Fiona Bruce explained in detail that this minor sub-committee of the UN does not even have the power to interpret CEDAW regulations, let alone demand that States accept its recommendations. Sir Edward Leigh also made this point, saying: “Far too much weight has been put on the recommendations of the CEDAW committee. To imply that the Secretary of State should consider taking action in law as a result is entirely inappropriate. We need to be very careful with regard to the precedent we would set if we passed these amendments and new clauses. Do we want to give reports of UN treaty monitoring bodies this kind of status, irrespective of the topic?”

The pro-abortion MPs justified their actions by claiming Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws are a breach of human rights. Liam Gibson says: “But what is most shocking is that a radical abortion regime is to be imposed on Northern Ireland in the name of human rights. Abortion is not a human right. It is an act of lethal violence directed at an unborn child.

“The right to life is the fundamental human right and abortion violates this right. Claims that our human rights obligations require the legalisation of abortion are completely untrue. Not one UN human rights agreement has ever recognised abortion as a human right. On the contrary, the right to life is the fundamental human right, shared by all members of the human family, born and unborn, regardless of their disabilities or the circumstances of their conception.”

By-passing devolution

DUP MPs argued strongly that while there are many pressing issues that are not being dealt with in the absence of a devolved assembly, it was only for abortion and same-sex marriage that MPs were proposing by-passing devolution and legislating from Westminster. They were also very clear that doing so was against the will of the people of Northern Ireland. Jim Shannon MP said: “As of Monday evening, my office had received 443 emails on this issue, the majority of which were from women in my constituency, and 412 of the emails opposed any attempt by this place to change abortion laws in Northern Ireland through external interference, with some even labelling this as an attack on devolution and democracy. Just 31 asked me to support these amendments. That means that 92.5% of my constituents—the people I am paid to represent in this House—have asked me not to accede to this amendment.”

Mr Shannon also summed up the debate when he said: “I have heard much about a woman’s right over her body, but I have not heard very much about the right of the little life within. The right of the unborn human offspring, from approximately the second week to the eighth week after ​fertilisation, and the sanctity of life are very important to me and my constituents.”