Abortion law campaigners hopeful of ‘crucial opportunity’ at Westminster

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Westminster bids to amend abortion laws in Northern Ireland represent a “crucial opportunity” for reform, pro-choice campaigners have said.

The Commons will this week see two parliamentary attempts to change the restrictive regime on terminations in the region.

On Tuesday, a private member’s bill will be tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson aiming to remove sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that make abortion a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The 1967 Abortion Act in England and Wales provided for exemptions to the 1861 Act, enabling legal abortions.

On Wednesday, fellow Labour MPs will attempt to amend a bill the Government is tabling in response to the ongoing powersharing crisis.

The amendments proposed by MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn aim to use the bill to compel the Government to push through changes to abortion and same sex marriage laws in Northern Ireland.

Abortions in Northern Ireland are currently illegal in all but exceptional medical and mental health circumstances.

The Government has so far resisted pressure to step in to legislate for reform in the wake of a recent Supreme Court judgment that found the current legal framework incompatible with human rights laws.

In June, a majority of Supreme Court judges said the ban on terminations in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality needed “radical reconsideration”.

Given there are no ministers at Stormont due to the powersharing impasse, pro-choice campaigners have demanded the laws are changed at Westminster.

Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International said: “Westminster must use this week to show it will prioritise the health and rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland by moving a step closer towards scrapping Northern Ireland’s archaic and cruel abortion law.”

Anti-abortion activities are opposed to Westminster intervening on what remain devolved issues, despite the collapse of powersharing.

They insist such sensitive matter should only be considered by locally elected ministers.

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