Labour MP Stella Creasy has asked the government what it plans to do about abortion services in Northern Ireland.
Last year, Stella Creasy’s daughter, Hettie, made her first appearance at the House of Commons. The Labour MP held her baby in a sling while she was sworn in to take her seat in parliament. Yesterday (4 June), Hettie returned to the Commons to help Creasy debate a vital issue: the laws around abortion in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted to pass a motion to reject recent changes to its abortion laws. Creasy, an ardent campaigner for the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland, asked the government what it plans to do if the NI Assembly “continues to say they will not commission these [abortion] services.”
Addressing Northern Ireland office minister Robin Walker in the Commons while holding a gurgling Hettie, she said: “We all recognise that this is a difficult issue for many and that there are strongly held views on all sides of this debate.
“But one of the reasons why this House stood up for the human rights of all women in the United Kingdom was: just because it was too difficult didn’t mean that their rights should be denied.”
She continued: “And devolution doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to uphold the human rights of every UK citizen. And I respect the argument that the minister is making, as does my daughter, that the human rights are at the heart of all of this, and that the role of the Assembly should be to come up with its alternative proposals if it doesn’t like these regulations.
“Because to not propose these regulations would mean further delay and possibly women making unsafe choices in Northern Ireland because there isn’t clarity about what services are available to them.”
Creasy then explained how the current coronavirus pandemic puts extra pressure on the issue.
She said: “I also want to press the minister on something he said because he recognises that travelling is not a sustainable option. Many women cannot travel and indeed in the current crisis it’s unacceptable. When we talk about these cases, let us also talk about the case of Sarah Jane Ewart, who had to come forward, who had a fatal fetal abnormality, and at the moment there is no provision to support anybody else in her tragic, horrific position in Northern Ireland.
“The minister says he wants to see the Department of Health in Northern Ireland providing these services. Can he tell us what his plan is, indeed, if the Northern Ireland Assembly continues to say that they will not commission these services?
“How do we ensure that we uphold the rights of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) that we have said every woman in the United Kingdom is entitled to be covered by?”
Walker responded: “I do think that it is important that we should end the need to travel and that is what these regulations properly implemented should do.”
He added that “is not something that can necessarily be done instantly” and the government “will continue to fund and support travel in the interim”.
He added: “We will work with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, provide them with the support that they need and continue to engage with the relevant medical bodies to make sure that this process can be completed as quickly as possible.
“And I would join her in once again urging the Assembly to engage with this and support this actively in order to make sure that we have a set of measures in place that can really deliver for women and girls in Northern Ireland.”