Alliance for Choice have noted the the Northern Ireland Office have mistakenly leaked their own briefing documents on the issues that are currently pressing for Northern Ireland in the absence of a devolved assembly. These are the issues that are causing grief for the Conservatives, largely due to their uneasy coalition with, and reliance on, the Democratic Unionist Party.
Karen Bradley's briefing notes reiterate a number of times that (despite clear evidence to the contrary from CEDAW) abortion law "was a devolved matter". Goretti Horgan of Alliance for Choice in Derry commented: "
"Clearly not wanting to upset their Northern Ireland allies, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been at pains in her notes to underline their commitment to restoring devolution and power sharing. However the briefing note does end with 'We are committed to restoring locally elected, democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland. But that does not prevent others from introducing such legislation if they so wish. In such circumstances, it is worth reiterating two important considerations:
One, the power of Westminster, as the sovereign Parliament, to legislate remains; and
Two, the Government’s policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as abortion.
In other words, we won't do it but won't stop others if they go ahead."
Alliance for Choice notes that legislators need to step in to prevent any more breaches of human rights and that the government is essentially giving the green light to the opposition. Although Karen Bradley's notes state that
"We have put in place arrangements that mean women from Northern Ireland will not be charged for termination of pregnancy services in England, with travel support available for those women who find themselves in a financial hardship situation. We believe this approach strikes an appropriate balance between the devolved position of abortion in Northern Ireland, and allowing women normally resident in Northern Ireland to have access to abortion services in England within the bounds of the law."
However Alliance for Choice have noted that neither the Supreme Court nor CEDAW are satisfied that these arrangements in any way relieve Westminster from their duty to act.
As noted in the summary of the CEDAW report in February on travel,
"All women interviewed by the DM who were denied access to safe abortion in NI conveyed the extreme vulnerability, physical and psychological stress, mental anguish, desperation and isolation they experienced in seeking appropriate medical treatment to terminate their pregnancy.
and, Noting the heavy financial, emotional and logistical burden, the Committee considers that such travel is not a viable solution for women"
Emma Campbell from Alliance for Choice in Belfast points out,
"There is no getting around this any more, we have a clear majority of political support for abortion reform in Northern Ireland after Sinn Féin's Ard Fheis this weekend. We have international human rights bodies and the highest courts in the land underlining the need for Westminster to act, we have poll after poll showing a majority of NI support the removal of criminal sanctions on abortion seekers. The time to act is now."
We hope that the support we have from sitting parliamentarians in supporting the ending of forced pregnancy and criminalisation of abortion seekers in Northern Ireland will force the hand of the Government and soon.