"We don't protect women by criminalising them" - Northern Irish government warned to prepare for abortion amendment
"The Republic of Ireland have paved the way."
Tuesday saw a cross-party group of backbench MPs debating lifting the Northern Ireland abortion ban in Westminster, after Labour backbencher Stella Creasy was granted permission for an emergency debate on Monday afternoon.
The debate, which is set to last three hours, is an attempt to ramp up pressure on Theresa May to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland.
As it currently stands, abortion is only legal in the North if the life of the woman is endangered.
The 1967 Abortion Act, which established legal abortion in England, Scotland and Wales for up to 24 weeks, has never applied in Northern Ireland. The north’s abortion laws are still governed by sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 as well as sections 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945.
The Offences Against the Person (OAP) Act was written in 1861 and makes it a crime for any woman to cause her own abortion.
It's understood that the recent repealing of the Eighth Amendment in the Republic of Ireland has acted as a domino effect for the North, as Sarah Wollaston, Conservative chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, referred to the Irish referendum result as a "stark spotlight on the situation for women in Northern Ireland".
Wollaston, a former GP, continued by expressing her disdain at the current laws.
"It cannot be acceptable that in just six counties of our United Kingdom, women are forced to make long, lonely journeys across the water or be forced into the hands of the unscrupulous. I do believe it is time for this House to act to protect their rights."
"The time is absolutely right for us to move from a situation where women are criminalised to one where women are treated with respect and dignity," she concluded.
Labour MP Stella Creasy, a stalwart supporter of women's rights in the North, called for Tuesday's emergency meeting.
Creasy, who is calling for the repeal of sections of the law making abortion illegal in Northern Ireland, argued fervently that the current ban, as it stands, is a healthcare issue.
"The truth is in 2018 we still don't trust our own women. This is the one healthcare decision that no UK woman can make on her own. That's why the UN has called on us to Repeal these specific sections of law."
Creasy and her supporters believe they can force all parts of the UK to reconsider their abortion laws by repealing sections of the 1861 Act.
“I see abortion as an equalities issue. Because men and women will never truly be free whilst one cannot control what happens to their own body.” @stellacreasy sets out why abortion reform in Northern Ireland is absolutely a #humanrights issue. pic.twitter.com/UduQV10Z0Y
— News From Amnesty (@NewsFromAmnesty) June 5, 2018
The Co-op MP for Walthamstow also recently appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, stating that the current law places women in the same category as rapists.
“The Offences Against the Person Act passed in 1861 is over 150 years old. It puts abortion in the same category as rape, child-stealing, and using gun powder to blow people up," Creasy said.
“What that means is that right now in Northern Ireland, where there are no exemptions to this law, if you are raped and you become pregnant as a result of that rape, and you seek a termination, you would face a longer prison sentence than the person who attacked you.”
She has previously said that that repealing the OAP Act would remove a block to abortion law reform in Northern Ireland.
Ms Creasy concluded her emboldened speech by referencing the Act she wishes to change, calling on her fellow ministers to implement change in "at most 150 days."
Conservative MP Anna Soubry also chimed in, stating: "For a myriad of reasons a woman may find herself with an unwanted pregnancy and I believe that she has a right to choose what happens next."
Soubry continued to voice her opinions on the matter, those of pro-choice beliefs, before finishing with "Your laws are cruel and repressive."
Tuesday's debate could see a vote take place, however it will not be binding in British government.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has previously insisted that the issue is a matter for Northern Ireland's leaders.
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill has described Tuesday's emergency abortion debate as a "first step'' on the road to abortion reform in Northern Ireland.
In a statement posted to An Phoblacht, O'Neill confirmed Sinn Féin's stance of supporting legislative change in the North.
"I welcome the initiative taken today to put this issue on the political agenda at Westminster.
"It an essential step in bringing an end to the criminalisation of women in very difficult and traumatic circumstances under 150-year-old Westminster laws.
Legislative change is required."