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MPs share own personal abortion stories during Northern Ireland debate

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Susan Devaney
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MPs have called for legal reform on abortion in Northern Ireland, giving women the right to choose. 

In an emotional parliamentary debate on liberalising abortion laws in Northern Ireland, two women MPs have bravely shared their own abortion stories.

Conservative MP Heidi Allen said it was an “incredibly hard decision” to have a termination, but her pregnancy was causing daily seizures and leaving her unable to control her body, according to The Independent

Allen urged fellow MPs to seize a “window of opportunity” to change Northern Ireland’s tough abortion laws after Ireland voted to repeal the eighth amendment.

Allen continued: “I was ill when I made the incredibly 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.”

The MP for South Cambridgeshire then questioned if it would be right for Westminster to intervene: “As a woman who believes passionately in equality, in choice and an individual’s right to determine their own destiny, and as a woman elected to be the MP for South Cambridgeshire in the 21st century, who stood yesterday to support [Stella Creasy’s] request for this debate, because she is standing up for all the women in the UK, but mostly because I have been there, I am making it my business.”

Labour’s Jess Phillips also shared her own story to show women who seek abortions are “not criminals”. Phillips recalled recently collecting a hire car at Birmingham Airport, where she noticed the last journey the car had made on satnav was to the same clinic where she’d had an abortion 10 years prior.

Phillips said: “I shuddered at the thought of the woman who had hired the car before me, not to go about her working life but to go and do something I took completely for granted – myself and [Heidi Allen] are not criminals.”

Phillips then went onto to read aloud other similar stories women had shared with her. 

Both women shared stories in parliament after Labour MP Stella Creasy called for an emergency debate to repeal sections of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, which makes it a criminal offence for women to have a termination in almost all circumstances. The 1967 Abortion Act exempted women in England and Wales – but the 1861 restrictions still apply in Northern Ireland.

Currently, Northern Ireland has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe – with women unable to seek abortions even in cases of rape or incest.

Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, made it clear on a personal note that she fully backed reform, but expressed her concern at Westminster disenfranchising 1.8 million voters in Northern Ireland if it acted.

However, DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed that 100,000 people in Northern Ireland are alive today because of the strict law.

“I am proud of that pro-life position, I am proud of the fact that there are so many people alive in Northern Ireland today because we have a law that respects the rights of both women and of the unborn child and we will maintain that position,” he said.

Donaldson added: “There are strong voices on both sides of this debate, this is a devolved issue – it should be left to the people of Northern Ireland to decide.”

You can read more on Northern Ireland’s position on abortion here.

Images: Getty 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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