Parliament abortion fight now moves onto the Lords

MPs voted 332 – 99 in favour of undermining the sovereignty of Northern Ireland by voting for an amendment which has the potential to lead to widespread changes to abortion legislation in Northern Ireland and possibly also England and Wales.

Yesterday evening (Tuesday 08/07), several abortion related amendments were chosen to be debated in relation to a Bill intended to extend the period for the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland. A number of MPs were deeply critical of the fact that these amendments were accepted by the Chair of the debate, Dame Eleanor Laing MP. The abortion amendments were not related to the substance of the Bill at all and so, it was argued, were “out of scope” of the Bill.

Ian Paisley MP said during the debate: “This Bill is called the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, yet the debate has been pretty thin on how an Executive could be formed again in Northern Ireland. In fact, we have had a debate about every other ​issue under the sun except what we are supposed to be debating.”

In addition to the abortion amendments being criticised for being beyond the scope of the Bill, MPs were keen to point out that the supposed ‘right to abortion’ to which those advocating for abortion in Northern Ireland appealed, does not in fact exist: as Mr Paisley said “there is no right to abortion in any international treaties.”

Abortion remains a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and pro-abortion MP, Maria Miller, made clear that she could not support these amendments because of their potentially wide reaching effects on the whole of the UK and the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland. The DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds MP, added that the amendments would “drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution”.

In an unusual move, the Scottish National Party, which makes a point of abstaining in devolved matters (having their own devolved powers, they respect the devolved powers of other regions in the United Kingdom) abandoned its own principles and allowed a vote for its members on these amendments.

Having passed through the Committee stage with the abortion amendment accepted, the Bill will now proceed to the House of Lords in the coming days with the second reading this afternoon (10/07) and concluding with the Report stage on Wednesday (17/07).

Even if the Bill proceeds through all stages with the abortion amendment intact, the Bill contains a clause which means that should the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont return by 21 October 2019, the amendment will not have any effect and any changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland, England and Wales will not go ahead.