No action on abortion in North until Assembly is back - No 10

Senior Conservatives call for free vote in on Labour bill to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland

Downing Street has insisted that any move to extend abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland must wait for the restoration of the devolved institutions which have been suspended for the past 17 months.

Theresa May’s official spokesman said on Monday that abortion was a devolved matter on which politicians at Westminster should not legislate.

“It is important to recognise that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to their own process which is run by elected politicians. Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent,” the spokesman said.

Senior Conservatives have called on the prime minister to allow a free vote in the House of Commons on Labour MP Stella Creasy's amendment to the Domestic Violence Bill which would extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Labour's shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti on Tuesday called on Ms May to live up to her claim to be a feminist by standing up for the rights of women in Northern Ireland.


“We are calling on Mrs May, a self-identifying feminist, to negotiate with the parties in Northern Ireland and then to legislate without further delay,” she said.

"I think that Theresa May, really as a self-identifying feminist, needs to say 'Yes, I unveil statues of suffragists in Parliament Square, but the test of my feminism will be whether I guarantee fundamental human rights for women'."

Human rights issue

Advocates for action from Westminster argue that abortion is a human rights issue and as such is not a devolved matter. They point to a report earlier this year by the United Nations committee on the elimination of discrimination against women which said that women in Northern Ireland faced “systematic violations of rights” through being compelled to either travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion or to carry their pregnancy to term.

The UK supreme court is expected to rule in the coming months on a challenge by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s challenge to the legislation in the North which bans abortion unless the mother is in danger of death or long-term illness.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Tuesday that he was saddened by the outcome of last week’s referendum in Ireland and said the devolution settlement demanded that the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland should be decided by the Assembly there.

“I think once you start picking and choosing on the devolution settlement you might find that you do great damage to the union,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times