NI abortion law should be changed at Stormont, Sinn Féin says

Michelle O’Neill open to Intergovernmental Conference tackling issue in absence of powersharing

Sinn Féin’s vice president and Northern leader Michelle O’Neill (right) shaking hands with members of the Together for Yes group who campaigned for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Sinn Féin’s vice president and Northern leader Michelle O’Neill (right) shaking hands with members of the Together for Yes group who campaigned for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

 

Legislative change on abortion in Northern Ireland should be brought about by the Stormont Assembly or through the British and Irish Intergovernmental Conference, Sinn Fén vice president Michelle O’Neill has said.

She was speaking after a three-hour debate in the House of Commons on a proposal to repeal two sections of the 1861 Offences against the Person Act (OAPA) which criminalise abortion in the North.

Ms O’Neill welcomed the initiative of Labour MP Stella Creasy to “to put this issue on the political agenda at Westminster”.

The debate was merely to consider the UK government’s role so there was no vote but if repeal were to eventually be successful it would then be a matter for Stormont to legislate.

Ms O’Neill said the first step in the process for legislative change for the North was “bringing an end to the criminalisation of women in very difficult and traumatic circumstances under 150-year-old Westminster laws”.

‘Matter of urgency’

She said in the absence of powersharing at Stormont — which has not be sitting since January 2017 - Sinn Féin wants the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to meet “as a matter of urgency” under the terms of the Belfast Agreement “to deliver on rights and equality issues including the critical issue of women’s right to appropriate, modern and compassionate health care”.

The DUP describes itself as a pro-life party and does not want to see a change to the North’s law, which means abortion is only available when a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious danger to her mental or physical health.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson told the House of Commons debate he was “not embarrassed” by not having the same abortion law as Britain, where terminations can be carried out up to 24 weeks.

‘Killed’

He said that because the 1967 Abortion Act had not been extended to the North “there are 100,000 people alive [in Northern Ireland] today who would have been killed before they were born”.

The Northern Ireland spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) Liam Gibson said if Theresa May gives into “intimidation” it would mean her government is “morally and politically bankrupt”.

Belfast-based solicitor Ciaran Moynagh said current legislation is “out of touch and a great cause of concern for primarily women but really for all here”.

On Thursday the Supreme Court in London will deliver its ruling on whether Northern Ireland’s abortion law breaches women’s rights by not allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormalities.

Mr Moynagh said this will hopefully provide some clarity on these matters and other cases currently before the courts in the North.