Diana Johnson MP and a cross-party coalition of MPs from five UK political parties will today launch a 10 Minute Rule Bill to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
MPs co-sponsoring the abortion bill are Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Dr Roberta Blackman Woods MP, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Rt Hon Anna Soubry MP, Crispin Blunt MP, Liz Saville Roberts MP , Caroline Lucas MP, Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Jo Stevens MP, Stella Creasy MP and Christine Jardine MP.
The Bill removes the criminal provisions from the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 which underpins abortion law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This bill will seek to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. The bill is scheduled for its first reading on Tuesday 23rd October 2018 and in particular, it will be the first opportunity for MPs to vote on decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland. The Bill is co-sponsored by MPs from five different political parties and is expected to receive wide-ranging support.
The Westminster government has to date rejected calls to legislate on Northern Ireland's near-total ban on abortion, arguing that abortion is a devolved issue that must be resolved at Stormont. There has been no sitting Northern Ireland Assembly in place since January 2017.
In a recent Supreme Court Case on 7th June 2018 Justices found that Northern Ireland's current abortion law was incompatible with the right to respect for private and family life as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
There is also support outside of Parliament for Westminster to act and for decriminalisation. In February 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called on the UK government to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland.
Polling, including that published today by Amnesty International, has also repeatedly demonstrated that the majority of the public in Northern Ireland do not support criminalising women who end their own pregnancies.
The Bill would remove abortion from the criminal law, allowing abortion to be regulated in the same way as all other routine medical procedures. Under the proposed reform, abortion services would be properly regulated and would remain subject to a vast body of health care law and regulation. Stormont, when reconstituted, would establish their own framework for abortion care for Northern Ireland women.
The Bill seeks to bring the UK into line with some states in Australia, the USA, and much of Europe in not criminally punishing women for ending their pregnancies.
The Bill would not change the UK time limits for abortion and it would not affect the rights of medical professionals to opt out of providing abortion services, but would in fact extend these rights to clinicians in Northern Ireland.
'The Bill also introduces a new offence of using violence or the threat of violence to cause a non-consensual abortion tackling violent partners who cause women to have miscarriages.'
Diana was supported in the drafting of this bill by Amnesty International NI, FPA, BPAS, Professor Sally Sheldon and Gordon Nardell QC.
Commenting on the Bill Diana Johnson MP said: "Abortion is a healthcare and human rights issue, women who have abortions are not criminals and the law should not treat them as such. In Northern Ireland, prosecutions are a reality and this cannot continue. It's time for change. I am grateful to the bill's co-sponsors for their support and recognition of the urgent need for reform. We trust women and urge government to give the time to enable this bill to pass."
Anna Soubry MP said: "Abortion is a matter for women and their doctors, not the criminal justice system. I fully support the decriminalisation of abortion. We have as much of a duty to women in England and Wales as we do to those in Northern Ireland. The near total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland is unacceptable and must end. If we are successful in securing the decriminalisation of abortion, we urge Northern Ireland parties to agree a human rights compliant framework for access".
Norman Lamb MP said: "It is unconscionable that women can still face the threat of prosecution for ending a pregnancy in a 21st century western democracy. Criminalising abortion is a breach of women's human rights, which forces some women to resort to dangerous measures such as buying pills online. Our cruel and draconian abortion laws need urgent reform so that abortion is treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one. The Liberal Democrats are proud to stand behind this bill and the cross-party support highlights the growing strength of opinion in Parliament that it's time for change."