Over 100 MPs Urge Theresa May To Liberalise Northern Ireland’s Ban On Abortion And Same-Sex Marriage

A majority of MPs, including many Tories, backed legislation that would extend equal rights to Northern Ireland.

Image of Parliament where Theresa May was urged to extend equal rights to Northern Ireland.

A majority of MPs have backed legislation liberalising Northern Ireland’s restrictive laws regarding abortion and same-sex marriage. The overwhelming show of support contradicts Theresa May’s position in which she maintains that the issues are a devolved matter for Northern Ireland’s politicians.

The House of Commons voted 208 to 123 in favour of supporting a bill that would decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Labour MP Diana Johnson introduced the bill which seeks to remove the 157 year-old law which bans abortion in most cases. The bill was supported by a majority of MPs, including many members of the Conservative Party.

Johnson addressed the House of Commons, advocating for a reform of the restrictive laws:

“Abortion in our country is underpinned by the oldest legal framework for any healthcare treatment, with the harshest criminal sentence in the developed world for women having an illegal abortion.

“Our current abortion law dates back to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – a time when Queen Victoria was on the throne and women were still decades away from getting the right to vote.”

Under the aforementioned act, any person seeking an abortion may face a life-long prison sentence.

Despite the wealth of support for liberalising Northern Ireland’s restrictive laws, Prime Minister Theresa May maintains her viewpoint that laws regarding abortion are a matter for Northern Ireland’s own government.

A spokesperson for Theresa May confirmed her stance:

“The Prime Minister has consistently said that abortion has always been a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and the best way forward is that the issue should be decided by locally accountable politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

A large number of MPs have also declared their support for introducing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Labour MPs Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy introduced an amendment entitled ‘Equal Rights for People of Northern Ireland’, which would extend marriage equality to Northern Ireland.

Hugh Lane

As it stands, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which still bans marriage for same-sex couples, despite majority support among both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the public. A Sky News poll showed, in April, that 76% of the public supported marriage equality.

McGinn spoke to The Guardian about the need for reform:

“Equality for LGBT people in Northern Ireland is long overdue, and this amendment gives the government the opportunity to match its words and deeds and bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.”

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