MPs share their personal experiences of abortion at an emergency debate for northern ireland

Currently Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where having a termination is a criminal offence.

by Roisin Lanigan
|
06 June 2018, 10:38am

Via Twitter

It’s only been a little over the week since the Republic of Ireland passed their historic referendum vote to repeal the 8th Amendment, the archaic constitutional law which prohibited Irish women from getting a termination in their own country. But since then pro-choice activists have been doing anything but resting on their laurels. Instead, the debate has turned to Northern Ireland, which now finds itself in the unusual position of being the only part of the UK -- and the only part of Ireland -- where abortion is still considered a criminal offence, one punishable with up to 14 years in prison.

After protests and rallies in Belfast and across the province, yesterday the debate moved to Westminster, with an emergency debate focusing on reforming the Victorian Offences Against The Person Act, the 1861 law still used in Northern Ireland to prohibit reproductive rights. The debate was historic in itself, as well as emotional, as it marked the first time in the House of Commons that female MPs openly talked about their own experiences with abortion.

Conservative MP Heidi Allen and Labour MP Jess Phillips opened up about their own terminations, with Heidi Allen tearing up as she told the chamber: “I was ill when I made terribly hard decision to have a termination. I was having seizures every day. I wasn’t even able to control my own body, let alone care for a new life.”

Jess Phillips followed, adding: “Myself and the member for South Cambridgeshire are not criminals.”

Conservative MP Heidi Allen and Labour MP Jess Phillips opened up about their own terminations, with Heidi Allen tearing up as she told the chamber: “I was ill when I terribly hard decision to have a termination. I was having seizures every day. I wasn’t even able to control my own body, let alone care for a new life.”

Jess Phillips followed, adding: “Myself and the member for South Cambridgeshire are not criminals.”

The emergency debate was taken to Parliament because of a political stalemate in Northern Ireland. Currently many of the country’s decisions are being made direct-rule style from Westminster while Stormont (Northern Ireland's parliament) is inactive. Following the emotional scenes, the UK Supreme Court is now expected to deliver an historic ruling on Thursday as to whether Northern Ireland’s abortion ban violates the UK’s human rights commitments.

In a statement, Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Campaign manager, said: “If the court rules that Northern ireland’s abortion ban breaches women’s rights, then there will be no excuses left for Theresa May -- the government will be forced to fulfil its human rights responsibilities and make things equal for the women of Northern Ireland.

“The Supreme Court judges have a unique chance to put right centuries of human rights abuse in Northern Ireland. We hope they take it.”

Watch our film on Ireland's historic 8th Amendment referendum here:

Tagged:
abortion
reproductive rights
Northern Ireland