MPs urged to back abortion reform in Northern Ireland

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Campaigners have urged MPs to put pressure on Westminster to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

Abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland in all but exceptional medical and mental health circumstances, leading women to travel elsewhere in the UK for the procedure or to break the law by taking abortion pills.

Activists at the SNP conference in Glasgow said unlike in the Republic of Ireland, no referendum is needed to increase legal access to abortion as Westminster could repeal the current law.

They argued this would not set a damaging precedent for devolution.

Speaking at a fringe event at the SNP conference organised by feminist policy organisation Engender, Fiona Bloomer of the Reproductive Health Law and Policy Advisory Group Human said a report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) found “systematically grave violations” of human rights due to Northern Ireland abortion law and recommended legal change.

“The bottom line is human rights of individuals in Northern Ireland who are seeking abortion are being contravened,” she said.

“The rest of the UK now has this amazing opportunity where they can actually help those women.

“They can advocate for action at Westminster, advocate for that to happen, advocate for change in the law made at Westminster and they can actually bring about systematic change in Northern Ireland.”

Emma Campbell, of pro-choice organisation Alliance for Choice, added: “At the moment it’s almost out of the hands of Northern Irish people because at the moment the only MPs they have representing them in Westminster are Sinn Fein who refuse to sit and the DUP who actively block abortion access despite 70% of their own voters supporting it.

“That’s why we need our supporters in England and Scotland and Wales to put pressure on their own MPs to attend and be our voice when we don’t really have one.”

She said the only risk of damaging devolution in Scotland would be if the country planned to contravene human rights.

Engender’s Alys Mumford said Scotland providing free access to NHS abortions for Northern Irish women is welcome, but does not go far enough.

She said urging action at Westminster is “not incompatible” with devolution due to the lack of a sitting administration at Stormont and the Cedaw recommendation.

She said: “We really need Scottish MPs to act for women in Northern Ireland.

“It’s not enough to waive fees but still make women travel.

“It’s not enough to talk good talk on women’s reproductive rights, but fail to take action wherever possible.”

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