MPs vote by large majority to approve new NI abortion guidelines

MPs have approved recently introduced abortion guidelines for Northern Ireland.

DUP MP Carla Lockhart, pictured in the Commons today, said ‘the will of the people of Northern Ireland has been ignored’
DUP MP Carla Lockhart, pictured in the Commons today, said ‘the will of the people of Northern Ireland has been ignored’

The regulations, which came into effect at the end of March, were backed by 253 votes to 136, a majority of 117, in the Commons.

The Lords had already approved them earlier this week.

The regulations provide the legal framework for the provision of abortion services in the Province.

Northern Ireland’s near blanket ban on terminations ended last year when MPs intervened on the issue and voted through a law change when Stormont was still in deep freeze amid the power-sharing crisis.

Earlier, this month a majority of MLAs in the restored Assembly in Belfast approved a motion that rejected the “imposition” of the new laws on the region.

The Assembly motion had no impact on the legal status of the regulations, though anti-abortion parties like the DUP has expressed hope it would send a signal to MPs voting in the Commons today.

But with Parliament having backed the regulations, the government has now avoided the prospect of having to redraw them.

Amnesty International, a prominent campaigner for liberalisation of the Province’s laws, welcomed the vote.

Grainne Teggart from Amnesty said: “It’s great to see another strong majority vote for abortion rights in Northern Ireland.

“After so long, it’s right that we finally leave behind the shackles of our past – this is what women and girls here deserve.”

She said the Department of Health in Northern Ireland must fully commission these services as a “matter of priority”.

DUP MP Carla Lockhart said the move represented one of the darkest days in Northern Ireland’s history.

“The will of the people of Northern Ireland has been ignored,” she said.

“The will of the Northern Ireland Assembly has been ignored.

“The devolution settlement cast aside to press ahead with this life-ending agenda.

“This is undoubtedly one of the darkest days in Northern Ireland’s history.”

She urged the Northern Ireland Assembly to change the regulations.

During the vote, her party colleague Gregory Campbell had voiced concern that there was no attempt to check his identity in the deferred division process.

“I cast a vote in the members’ library with a deferred vision slip but there was no personnel present to establish that I was who I said I was and I see no other identification other than a signature on the deferred list,” he said.

“Is that the process and is it appropriate that that is how we should vote in the division lobby?”

Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing insisted Mr Campbell’s signature on the deferred division form was his form of identity.

Abortion is now legal in all circumstances in Northern Ireland in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

When the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s physical or mental health the time limit is 24 weeks.

Abortions are permitted at any time up to birth when there has been a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality or where the child is likely to suffer severe mental or physical impairment.

Responding to the vote, Right to Life UK spokeswoman Catherine Robinson said: “Today is an incredibly tragic day for Northern Ireland, for the unborn child and everyone who supports the right to life.

“The battle on these regulations now moves to Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“MLAs must now urgently bring forward to repeal these extreme abortion regulations.”