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Labour waters down Northern Ireland abortion pledge


The Labour Party has toned down its promise to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland, pledging instead to “work with” the Stormont Assembly on the issue.

In a draft manifesto leaked last week, the party said it would “continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will legislate to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland.”

The wording led to concerns a Labour government would force a change in the law on Northern Ireland against the wishes of the Assembly.

However, in the final version – published on Tuesday – the wording has changed to “we will work with the Assembly to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland.”

The 1967 Abortion Act, which legalised the practice in Britain, never applied to the province, where abortion is only legal if a woman’s life is at risk, or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

The issue of abortion is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont, although the Westminster Parliament can technically impose a change in the law on the province.

However, previous attempts have failed, including a 2008 proposal that was blocked by the then Leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman over fears it could lead the House of Lords amending existing British law.