A proposal that would radically change abortion law in England and Wales, as well as imposing abortion on Northern Ireland, has passed its first stage in the House of Commons.
MPs voted by 208 to 123 to approve the Ten Minute Rule Motion proposed by Labour MP Diana Johnson. The motion would remove most legal restrictions on abortion in England and Wales, and impose a similar regime on Northern Ireland, which currently maintains strong right-to-life laws.
Writing for the Catholic Herald before the debate, Baroness O’Loan said the proposal would have “staggering” consequences.
“This Bill would have the effect of introducing radical changes to abortion practice in England and Wales, and would impose abortion on Northern Ireland,” Baroness O’Loan wrote. “If these proposals were successful, we would see one the most extreme abortion regimes in the world introduced right across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
Speaking during the debate Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said the proposal would “set a dangerous constitutional precedent of interference”.
“It is not only unconstitutional, it is untimely. At such a sensitive time in relations between the Westminster government and the Northern Ireland administration, it would completely undermine the substance and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Ten Minute Rule motions rarely become law, but there are fears the abortion lobby could use it to build momentum for a serious attempt to change the law later this year.
Clare McCarthy, a spokesperson for Right To Life, said: “Though this was only a Ten Minute Rule Bill and saw less than half of MPs voting, the vote today will be used by Johnson and her peers to gain momentum for the abortion lobby’s extreme proposals for radical abortion change in the UK.”
“Recent polling also shows that this move is wildly out of step with public opinion who would actually support more restrictions on the current abortion law in the UK,” she added.
“In fact, 70 per cent of women polled believe that the current 24-week gestational limit for abortion should be reduced. In Britain, abortions can be performed until the 24th week, far beyond the European median of 12 weeks.
“Diana Johnson’s Bill is very unlikely to become law but should these extreme proposals ever reach the stages of legislative debate in the house, we are hopeful that politicians in Westminster would unite against them in respect of public opinion and of democracy in Northern Ireland.”