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Government Minister: Westminster must not impose will on abortion on Northern Ireland

6 June 2018

 
Karen Bradley MP addressing the House of Commons yesterday

She said decriminalisation would leave unacceptable gaps in the law 

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has reiterated the Government's position that abortion is a matter for the devolved administration.

Following the emergency debate on the issue brought by Labour backbench MP Stella Creasy, Minister Karen Bradley sent a letter to Conservative MPs laying out the Government's position. 

Westminster should not impose its will in this area

Ms Bradley reminded MPs that the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the Republic of Ireland was a decision made by the people of that country, and "has no bearing on the law in Northern Ireland." In addition, she said, "abortion remains a highly sensitive issue" and "it is important, therefore, that this matter is considered with due care and sensitivity.

"Here in the United Kingdom, the Government believes that any future reform in Northern Ireland must also be debated and decided by the people of Northern Ireland and their locally-elected politicians. Importantly, this is a view shared in Northern Ireland, where there is a cross-party, cross-community consensus that Westminster should not impose its will in this highly sensitive, devolved area." 

Already rejected by Stormont

The minister pointed out that there was no consensus even among those who want to change the law, and "that when the Northern Ireland Assembly last considered reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion law, in February 2016, there was a cross-community majority against allowing abortions in case of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest."

A rejection of decriminalisation?

Significantly, Ms Bradley opposed the idea put forward by Stella Creasy of repealing sections of the Offences Against the Person Act. In Northern Ireland, she said, doing so "would leave a gap in the law, and without any new provisions it offers no safeguards for women." 

Moreover, "it would also have an impact on England and Wales, as well as in Northern Ireland. The 1967 Abortion Act provides defences against the criminal law offences contained in the 1861 Act. If these offences were removed then abortion would in effect be decriminalised and no legal framework would be in place, including no gestational time limits. A new legal framework would be needed to replace those provisions, which is rightly a matter which locally accountable politicians in Northern Ireland should have the opportunity to debate and consider."

Another threat to Northern Ireland's pro-life laws will be decided tomorrow, when the Supreme Court rules on whether they are compatible with the European Declaration of Human Rights. 

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