Labour MSP ‘misled’ Scottish parliament over NI abortion rape claim

Kezia Dugdale made the disputed comments in Holyrood last week
Kezia Dugdale made the disputed comments in Holyrood last week

The former head of Scottish Labour has been accused of making a “misleading” statement to Scotland’s parliament about abortion in Northern Ireland.

Kezia Dugdale told fellow MSPs a number of women who were raped in Northern Ireland got longer jail prison terms for seeking an abortion than their rapists did for the attacks.

The Catholic Church’s Parliamentary Office challenged Ms Dugdale to provide evidence for that claim, saying that it “can find no record of any woman ever being imprisoned for having an abortion in Northern Ireland”.

The threat of criminal sentences for women is frequently being cited by pro-choice campaigners as part of the intensifying debate about abortion in the Province, with many saying the stiff penalties which are on the statute books show why the law must be relaxed.

Speaking in Holyrood on Thursday, Ms Dugdale said: “In Northern Ireland, some women have received longer jail sentences for having had an abortion than were given to the men who raped them in the first place.”

When the News Letter told Ms Dugdale’s spokesman that the Catholic church was seeking examples to support her claim, it responded: “In Northern Ireland if a woman is raped, becomes pregnant, and seeks a termination, she could face a longer prison sentence than the person who attacked her.”

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said this is different to what she had actually stated.

“Unfortunately Kezia Dugdale’s comments in the Scottish Parliament were misleading – whether intentionally or unintentionally it is unclear,” he told the News Letter.

“This is a sensitive debate and it is crucial that all participants speak with accuracy and respect.”

When it comes to real-world punishments which women face for breaking abortion laws in Northern Ireland, the News Letter has covered instances in recent years of demonstrations where campaigners have publicly declared they are in possession of – or are actively taking – abortion pills, and the police have not arrested anyone.

In a recent instance where a woman was convicted of terminating her own pregnancy, she walked free from court.

The 21-year-old woman had pleaded guilty in 2016 to procuring an abortion by taking pills she had obtained online.

The court was told her housemates alerted police after finding the four-inch long body of a 10-to-12-week-old foetus – described by one of them as looking like a “wee baby” – in a black bag in the household bin.

A prosecutor said when the housemates spoke to the woman about it, she showed a “seemingly blase attitude”.

She later gave a “no comment” interview to the PSNI. The court handed her a three-month prison sentence suspended for two years. It also granted her anonymity.