Abortion (Alabama & Northern Ireland)

A number of constituents have got in touch to express their opinion on abortion in light of recent developments in Alabama.

Firstly, I entirely appreciate the importance of this issue for so many people. This is an incredibly delicate area of law and regardless of the views of individual MPs, it is treated with the utmost rigour. The approach to abortion law in the UK is set out in the Abortion Act of 1967 and this remains unchanged. Abortion legislation can only be changed by Parliament and it is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and decisions are made on the basis of free votes. Furthermore, Government ministers have told me that there are no plans to change the 24-week limit on abortion.

The 1967 Abortion Act provides defences against the criminal law offences contained in the sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861. If these offences were removed then abortion would in effect be decriminalised and no legal framework would be in place, including no gestational time limits. A new legal framework would be needed to replace those provisions and in the case of Northern Ireland, this is rightly a devolved matter which locally accountable politicians in Northern Ireland should have the opportunity to debate and consider.

I am also conscious of the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against any changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws in February 2016 and as such, I do not believe we as MPs should seek to overrule that decision just three years later. This is one of the many reasons that I warmly welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is currently co-chairing talks with Northern Ireland's political parties in an attempt to restore strong and inclusive devolved government. 

It is also important to note that prosecutions in Great Britain are currently rare and in recent years, for example, there have been just a handful of convictions, all in extremely concerning scenarios. Whilst I recognise that abortion is undeniably a controversial topic, the present legal position in my view is a fair compromise in a challenging ethical field.