MPs push for abortion reform in Northern Ireland

Cross-party coalition calls for British government to repeal 150-year-old legislation

A cross-party coalition of MPs is calling on the British government to repeal a 150-year-old piece of UK legislation that criminalises abortion in Northern Ireland.

One of the MPs, Labour backbencher Stella Creasy, has said that repealing the Offences Against the Persons Act, 1861, would remove a block to abortion law reform in Northern Ireland.

Ms Creasy, appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, said the current law placed women in the same category as rapists.

British prime minister Theresa May faces a political headache over the issue, however, because her fragile administration depends on the support of 10 DUP MPs, who strongly oppose any reform to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws.


Downing Street believes that any reform in Northern Ireland “is an issue for Northern Ireland”, a source said, adding that “it shows one of the important reasons we need a functioning Executive back up and running”.

Ms Creasy said: “The Offences Against the Person Act passed in 1861 puts abortion in the same category as rape, child-stealing, and using gun powder to blow people up.

“What that means is that right now in Northern Ireland, where there are no exemptions to this law, if you are raped and you become pregnant as a result of that rape, and you seek a termination, you would face a longer prison sentence than the person who attacked you.”

The Labour MP said that a move to repeal would be respectful of devolution, adding: “It is about repealing a piece of UK legislation that stops people in Northern Ireland having medical rather than criminal laws about abortion.”

Foster criticised

Ms Creasy also criticised DUP leader Arlene Foster, after the latter said she found it “quite distasteful to see people dancing about on the streets” after the Irish abortion referendum.

The Labour MP told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: “I would suggest that somebody who intends to go and march with the Orange Order in Fife at the end of this month may want to reflect on the value of making comments about other people’s protests and decisions to join people.

“The result in Ireland was overwhelming, it was overwhelming in terms of the impact it will have on the lives of thousands of women in Ireland — 2.5 million women who now have the right not to be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy.

“It also reflects the importance of listening to communities. They had to have a referendum there because they had a constitutional bar on providing abortion.

“Clearly, that will make a big impact on people’s lives and I would just suggest to Arlene Foster that criticising people for feeling that is a powerful statement of equality and liberation isn’t the best way forward if she wants to be somebody who is seen to be listening to her community.” – PA