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Abortion rights are being denied in Northern Ireland - progress on services is long overdue

Abortion rights are being denied in Northern Ireland - progress on services is long overdue
3 min read

We can all recognise that abortion is an emotive, sensitive topic that often engenders passionate views on all sides of the debate. In the midst of all of the different views however, are women and girls in Northern Ireland who are still, despite a change in the law, facing barriers to accessing abortion services.

This week in the House of Commons I am holding a debate on the commissioning of abortion services in Northern Ireland, because put simply, women and girls are being failed at the most basic level.

Enough is enough.

The debate around abortion is not a new one, and I am acutely aware of my responsibility to speak both frankly and respectfully on this particular topic, especially as prior to the Labour re-shuffle I was the shadow minister for Northern Ireland.

While I have now moved to the shadow DCMS team, I firmly believe that we all have a responsibility to our friends in Northern Ireland, and that should unequivocally include access to healthcare and safe, local abortion services too.

I’m stunned that in 2021 we have not made more progress

As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I understand well the sensitivities around the devolution settlement, but I believe that the United Kingdom is at its best when we work together to uphold fundamental rights, and the obligation to do that lies with this Parliament and this UK government.

Where such rights are denied, there is a moral and legal duty for the government to act.

And while I’m proud of the progress we have made, in part thanks to my friends Stella Creasy MP and Diana Johnson MP amongst others, progress towards seeing sustainable abortions services available to women and girls on the ground has been largely non-existent.

There seems to be particular reticence from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, who have faced legal action over their delays, to implement these services despite the law saying differently.

According to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Health has not commissioned or funded termination services for the purposes of implementing these services, as now required by law.

And it simply is not good enough.

While the UK government’s disregard for the law seems to be somewhat normalised (as events this past week have shown), this is not what we should expect from any governing body, let alone one responsible for four very different nations.

The same principle must be applied to the Department of Health in Stormont too, and they must do more to uphold their responsibilities to all of their citizens across Northern Ireland.

The heartfelt stories of women and girls who have been forced to make the heart-breaking journey across the Irish Sea to seek an abortion in Britain, often alone, are so much more than just emotive dialogues aimed to tug on the heartstrings.

This is a very vivid reality for women and girls seeking abortion services, and I’m stunned that in 2021 we have not made more progress.

The cold hard reality is that rights are being denied right now in Northern Ireland and the time to act has long come and gone.

For the sake of women and girls in Northern Ireland, it is vital that access to services is commissioned immediately.

 

Alex Davies-Jones is the Labour MP for Pontypridd.

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