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Northern Irish MPs heckled in Parliament for defending pro-life views of their constituents

5 June 2018

 
The Speaker had to intervene to make sure Sammy Wilson's passionate defence of the unborn was heard. 

Government holds its line, but decriminalisation threat remains very serious

Northern Irish MPs faced sustained heckling and attempts to shout them down today in Parliament, as they defended the pro-life views of their constituents. The Speaker had to intervene to make sure DUP MPs were heard during an emergency debate called by Labour MP Stella Creasy on repealing sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OPA), in a bid to decriminalise abortion across the UK, including in Northern Ireland.

The first pro-life MP to speak, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, rebutted claims from Ms Creasy and others that his views were out of touch with the people of Northern Ireland. "Frankly, Mr Speaker," he said, "I would not have been returned for my sixth term in Parliament, if I was so disconnected from the people I represent." 

The DUP chief whip defended the right of the devolved administration to decide on this sensitive issue, and went on to say that 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland today because the Abortion Act 1967 was not accepted. "I am proud of that pro-life position, I am proud of the fact that there are so many people alive in Northern Ireland today because we have a law that respects the rights of both women and of the unborn child and we will maintain that position."

There was particular uproar when Sammy Wilson of the DUP spoke up passionately for the rights of the unborn child. Hannah Bardell of the SNP branded his comments about people who "would have been discarded in a bin before they are born" as "disgusting". 

Pro-life speeches and interventions were also made by other members of the DUP, as well as Conservative MPs Fiona Bruce and Maria Caulfield. Ms Caulfield denounced the emergency debate as a "Trojan horse" that was about bringing abortion on demand to the whole of the UK, and "it is disrespectful to the women of Northern Ireland to say otherwise."

What did the Government say? 

Despite rumours before the debate that the Government would make a U-turn and support a move to impose abortion on Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Karen Bradley said that while she personally supported reform, it was up to the devolved administration at Stormont to legislate. 

She said acting to reform the law from Westminster would “disenfranchise 1.3 million citizens of the United Kingdom,” and said the focus had to be restoring the devolved executive at Stormont.

"That is why the government, like its predecessors, believes that the best forum to debate and resolve these and many other matters is a locally elected Northern Ireland assembly, so the government’s priority remains to urgently re-establish strong, inclusive, devolved government at the earliest opportunity."

What happens now?

Stella Creasy made it clear at the end of the debate that she will attempt to table a cross-party amendment on repealing the OPA to the upcoming domestic violence bill. Given the support shown to her plan by several high ranking Conservative MPs, including chair of the Health Select Committee Sarah Wollaston, prolife campaigners and others are warning that decriminalisation remains a real and imminent threat. 

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