Government must be ready to legislate to allow abortion in Northern Ireland
Everyone has a right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state, and that access to reproductive healthcare is a human right, say Layla Moran MP.
Yesterday, the High Court in a land-mark ruling stated that Northern Ireland's abortion law breaches the UK's human rights commitments. While this is a victory for women across Northern Ireland - it is not surprising and long overdue. Both the United Nations and the Supreme Court have already said that women in Northern Ireland’s human rights are being violated by these harmful abortion laws. As much as progress is being made, it is far too slow and far too little.
Northern Ireland, compared with the rest of the UK, only allows abortion in very specific cases such as when the mother’s life is in danger. Twenty-eight women are forced to leave Northern Ireland every single week, to travel to the rest of the United Kingdom for an abortion. It is shocking that even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, an abortion is considered illegal.
When I visited Belfast to speak with local politicians and campaigners for abortion reform in Northern Ireland, I was horrified to hear the stories of those who feel they are unable to seek medical help if they face complications either in their pregnancy or after taking abortion pills. The very fact they fear that medical professionals may have to report them to the police under Northern Ireland laws shows how desperate the situation is for women in Northern Ireland.
That is why this summer, working with other MPs, Parliament passed an amendment to ensure that the Government had to legislate for abortion in Northern Ireland if the Northern Ireland Assembly had not been restored by 21st October.
We are nearly at the date of October 21st and we must ensure the Conservatives are ready to legislate to allow abortion in Northern Ireland. So far they have refused to legislate for safe zones around clinics, resisted changing the law on abortion in Northern Ireland despite the Supreme Court and the UN stating that women’s rights were being violated and failed to update abortion laws in England and Wales. If it were not for Parliament forcing them to make changes, the Tories would leave women in Northern Ireland unsupported and ignored. It is simply not good enough and the Liberal Democrats demand better.
In government the Liberal Democrats would decriminalise abortion entirely. Currently abortion is still technically a crime throughout the UK with the Abortion Act 1967 simply providing exceptions. We would ensure abortion is treated as health issue, and not a criminal issue. We would also enforce safe zones around abortion service providers so that those visiting can travel to them free of any harassment or pressure. No woman should be harassed for the choices they make.
In government, Liberal Democrats would also provide funding to enable abortion clinics to provide their services free of charge to service users regardless of country of nationality or residency, ensuring all women can access services.
We believe that everyone has a right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state, and that access to reproductive healthcare is a human right.
It was the Liberals in 1967 who fought to change the law to allow abortion in England, Wales and Scotland but clearly, despite it being over 50 years later - the fight for women’s rights is by no means over. It’s 2019; it should be beyond comprehension that we not only don’t have laws in the UK which fail to protect women, but in fact we have laws that breach our human rights. The Liberal Democrats will fight to make that a reality.
Layla Moran is Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.