I have been contacted by a number of constituents as part of a campaign regarding access to abortion in the UK and abortion reform in Northern Ireland.
In March 2017, I was one of the MPs to present the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill. This Bill would have amended the law relating to abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and decriminalise abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Unfortunately, the Bill fell due to the snap general election in 2017. I then co-sponsored the Abortion Bill in October 2018, which aims to ensure that abortion is the woman’s choice, trusting her to make her own decision rather than having to rely on that of two doctors. The Bill also seeks to strengthen the protection of women against non-consensual abortions. Under the Bill any abortion that is caused as a result of violence or the administration of abortion pills without the woman’s consent would be subject to a new criminal offence that would carry a life sentence. The House of Commons voted by 208 votes to 123 in favour of the Bill, and it is now waiting its Second Reading.
Women in Northern Ireland are subject to one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in the Western world. It is a criminal offence to seek an abortion unless a woman’s life is at risk, this does not include cases of fetal abnormality, rape or incest. An illegal abortion in Northern Ireland is punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
As a liberal, I firmly believe in a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body and reproductive system. There are a number of reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion, but this is never a decision that is taken lightly and I do not believe that having a termination should be punishable under criminal law, including the possibility of a prison sentence.
I very much respect those who hold a different view on this, but for me my priority has to be to tackle the dreadful injustices faced by many children and young people in our world, whilst ensuring that women’s rights are protected.
I recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley MP, on behalf of constituents who had contacted me regarding abortion laws in Northern Ireland and I include below a copy of the response I received.