Emotional abortion debate draws gasps in House of Commons

DUP hardline reinforced with claim abortion sometimes used as form of contraception

Labour MP Stella Creasy is calling on the British government to repeal a 150-year-old piece of UK legislation that criminalises abortion in Northern Ireland. Video: Parliamentlive.tv

 

Sammy Wilson could not have known that he would be called to speak immediately after Conservative MP Heidi Allen had brought a hush to the House of Commons when she spoke of her own experience of abortion.

“Because I have been there, I am making it my business,” she said about the call to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

“I was ill when I made the incredibly hard decision to have a termination. I was having seizures every day. I was not even able to control my own body, let alone care for a new life. Are you telling me that, in a civilised world, rape, incest or a foetus so badly deformed it could never live, is not sufficient grounds for a woman to decide for herself? No. Enough.”

Another MP had put her arm around Allen, who broke down in tears during her speech, as the East Antrim MP rose to speak.

The reaction did not deter subsequent speakers from the DUP from suggesting that abortion was sometimes used as a form of contraception

Wilson acknowledged that Allen’s words highlighted the need for sensitivity when discussing the issue but then launched into a forceful denunciation of abortion, saying he was not embarrassed by his party’s opposition to it.

‘Put in a bin’

“We have people today in Northern Ireland who are rearing families, who are contributing to society, who are building their businesses, who are working in our factories, who are sitting in our schools, who otherwise, if we had had the legislation which exists here in the rest of the United Kingdom, would have been discarded and put in a bin before they were ever born,” he said.

Conservative MP Anna Soubry: said it was wrong to suggest that critics like her were trying to thwart the will of the people, insisting that she accepted that Britain is leaving the EU. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Conservative MP Anna Soubry asked what the DUP wanted to do about the 724 women who travelled to England from Northern Ireland for an abortion in 2016. File photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

There were gasps around the chamber at his words but the reaction did not deter subsequent speakers from the DUP from suggesting that abortion was sometimes used as a form of contraception. But when Jim Shannon condemned the debate as an opportunistic attempt to introduce abortion on demand on the back of the Irish referendum, Conservative Anna Soubry asked what the DUP wanted to do about the 724 women who travelled to England from Northern Ireland for an abortion in 2016.

“What are you going to do? Make them stay in Northern Ireland to have children that they don’t want?” she said.

The DUP won some support from Conservatives and from the Scottish National Party for its argument that Westminster should not interfere with the devolution settlement by legislating on a devolved issue.

But it was a discouraging day for those who worry about the party’s image in the rest of the UK and who complain that its reputation for intolerance is an antiquated caricature.

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