MPs vote to monitor how NI’s rights comply with rest of UK

North moves a step closer to abortion rights and marriage equality

Karen Bradley: the amendment requires Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley ‘to issue guidance’ to explain how officials can continue to enforce laws that outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage. Photograph: EPA/ Neil Hall

Karen Bradley: the amendment requires Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley ‘to issue guidance’ to explain how officials can continue to enforce laws that outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage. Photograph: EPA/ Neil Hall

 

Northern Ireland has moved a step closer to abortion rights and marriage equality after MPs voted to instruct officials to monitor how rights comply with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Armagh-born Conor McGinn attached the amendment to emergency legislation giving Northern Ireland’s civil servants more decision-making powers while the Assembly is suspended.

The amendment, which was passed by 207 votes to 117, requires Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley “to issue guidance” to explain how officials can continue to enforce laws that outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage.

Ms Creasy said the absence of a devolved legislature at Stormont for almost two years meant there was no opportunity for politicians in Northern Ireland to bring rights into line with the rest of the UK.

“When it comes to abortion, we know that right now in Northern Ireland, if you are raped, and you become pregnant as a result of that attack, and you seek a termination, you could face a longer prison sentence than your attacker.

“We know too that gay couples in Northern Ireland, when they step off the plane, no longer have their relationship respected in the way that any of us would wish our relationship to be respected. They do not have equal marriage in 2018,” she said.

Amendment

The Conservative government opposed the amendment on the grounds that it was not directly relevant to the Bill being debated and that abortion and marriage equality were devolved matters that must be determined by Northern Ireland’s politicians at Stormont. The government allowed a free vote, however, and a number of Conservatives voted in favour of the amendment.

The DUP opposed the amendment as a violation of the devolution agreement and Strangford MP Jim Shannon said Westminster would be acting against the will of most people in Northern Ireland.

“Not only does the new clause go against the will of a great many of us in this House, but it also goes against the will of 60 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland – women who say that they do not want any change. That is what the people of Northern Ireland are saying, so why should this House make it any different?” he said.

Conservative Anna Soubry said the law in Northern Ireland, which outlaws abortion even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, was causing great suffering to women there. She spoke about a woman she met who was diagnosed with foetal abnormality syndrome in the 23rd week of pregnancy, too late to travel to England for an abortion.

“She carried that child for 11 weeks and then her baby did die in her womb,” she said.

“She carried a dead baby in her womb for three days before finally she was induced and she gave birth to a baby girl who was decomposing. That is the situation that parents in Northern Ireland are left in.”

Mr McGinn’s private member’s Bill to introduce same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland receives its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday.