There was a debate in the House of Commons today about abortion in Northern Ireland. In the middle of some people hoping to secure rights to abortion for women in Northern Ireland and some people playing politics with the issue a lot of truth was lost so I thought it worthwhile writing up a few points.
Firstly, today wasn't a debate that could repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA). To repeal legislation requires legislation; that means there would need to be a Bill presented to Parliament and debated and then passed and that wasn't on the agenda today. Even if there was a Bill that repealed those sections of that law, though, we wouldn't have legalised or decriminalised abortion in Northern Ireland because section 25 of The Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 would still prohibit it. In fact, that Act means that people can go to prison for life for performing an abortion in Northern Ireland but no-one had mentioned that Act before I spoke today nor was anyone suggesting we get rid of it.
The referendum in Ireland didn't change the conditions in Northern Ireland. Nothing has changed for women in Northern Ireland in terms of access to health services except that they now have another geographically close comparison. Nothing has improved for them, more's the pity.
Stella Creasy MP had suggested that repealing the OAPA sections would free up all of the devolved legislatures, including the Scottish Parliament, to make new laws about abortion. It doesn't apply to Scotland, though, our laws are different. Because OAPA doesn't apply to Scotland, of course, no Scottish MP would be able to vote to repeal it – English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) would prevent that – so even if today's vote had been about repealing the legislation and doing what Ms Creasy had suggested no MP representing a Scottish constituency could have voted for or against repeal.
Abortion is, of course, devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, as it is to the Scottish Parliament and is a matter for the MLAs at Stormont. Stormont hasn't sat since January of last year but there are already proposals to liberalise abortion in Northern Ireland, recommended recently by a working group set up by the Assembly – those proposals could be implemented now. MLAs should get back to work and get on with making good law for Northern Ireland, of course, but the Assembly not sitting doesn't give anyone else the right to jump in and make laws about Northern Ireland without consulting the people of Northern Ireland. Democracy demands that the people have a voice.
Human Rights are also devolved to Northern Ireland and there is a case currently with the UK Supreme Court concerning human rights and the abortion laws in Northern Ireland. There is a Judgment due on Thursday about whether those rights are infringed by those laws.
Watch or read my contribution to the debate here: http://dbrockmp.scot/my-blogs/full-speech-from-northern-ireland-abortion-debate