A 10 minute rule bill to end the criminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland has passed by 208 votes to 123 in the Commons.
The bill, which was introduced by the Labour MP Diana Johnson, calls for a repeal of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalised any woman seeking an abortion with a theoretical maximum term of life imprisonment. The act was superseded by the Abortion Act 1967 in England and Wales, but it remains the law in Northern Ireland, forcing women to come to Britain to have abortions.
My colleague Dan Sabbagh reported her intention to present the bill to parliament on Sunday.
Johnson said her 10 minute rule bill would give MPs their first chance to vote on the abortion law in Northern Ireland since a May referendum overturned a ban in the Irish Republic.
The UK supreme court indicated in June that Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation was incompatible with human rights, although judges did not strike down the law on a technicality.
Johnson hopes that her bill will win enough support to force Theresa May to act, although there is no chance it will become law because the government will not give it parliamentary time. “I want to keep up the pressure on the government to allow MPs to have a proper vote,” Johnson said.
Responding to Johnson in the Commons, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said the bill was “against the principle of devolution” and would “completely undermine the substance and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement”. She said “it should be up to Northern Ireland to change their abortion law as, when and if they want to”.
The bill will have its second reading on 23 November.