Last night (4 July) a group of MPs brought forward a number of amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill which will proceed through all Commons stages early next week.
Some of these amendments appear to be designed to attempt to introduce abortion to Northern Ireland.
There is also the potential that last-minute manuscript amendments will be accepted at Committee Stage on Tuesday, as the Speaker of the House, Bercow made it very clear yesterday that he is likely to accept them.
At this stage, it is possible that some MPs will be seeking to add another amendment. Based on past amendments brought forward on this issue, it is possible that a manuscript amendment could be seeking to remove sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against The Person Act.
Doing this would immediately make abortion legal for any reason throughout the first 28 weeks (about 7 months) of pregnancy. This would also result in widespread changes to abortion legislation in England and Wales, removing almost all legal safeguards around abortion in these jurisdictions.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended since January 2017 due to a political disagreement resulting in deadlock. In the absence of a devolved parliament in Northern Ireland, although wholly inappropriate and constitutionally disrespectful, this legislation could potentially be imposed on Northern Ireland by parliament in Westminster
In Britain, abortion is available on demand up until 24 weeks gestation and, Ireland permits abortion in line with the EU median average of 12 weeks. If this amendment were to be successful, Northern Ireland would have one of the most extreme abortions laws in all of Europe, and would be significantly out of step with the existing legislation in Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Prospective Prime Ministers, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, have been clear that they support abortion remaining a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and do not wish for Westminster to impose abortion on the region as it should be up to the Northern Irish people to decide.
Furthermore, it has been suggested that it would not be constitutionally appropriate to bring forward such an amendment to a Bill which has nothing to do with abortion, especially given the extremely short time frame that will be available for substantive debate and discussion. It will not be possible to engage in a public consultation either so the people of Northern Ireland will not have any opportunity to voice opposition to the Bill.
ComRes polling has shown that 66% of women and 70% of 18-34 year-olds in Northern Ireland do not want abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.
Right To Life UK have set up an ‘Email your MP’ function on its website to give constituents the opportunity to ask their MP to reject any amendments which would force abortion on Northern Ireland.
Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:
“Westminster must respect the principle and spirit of devolution and ensure that the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, get to decide the abortion laws that apply to that region.
The amendments to this Bill are out of touch with the will of the Northern Irish people who reject interference from Westminster on their abortion laws and believe that this is a decision to be made in Northern Ireland.”