Opinion Former Article

Northern Ireland abortion law passes final Westminster hurdle

The House of Commons has voted for the final time in favour of legalising abortion in Northern Ireland, completing the passage of abortion legislation through the UK Parliament. Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists have expressed their delight at the news.

Today the Commons voted in favour of the final piece of regulations related to this matter by 253 votes to 136. This followed on from the House of Lords voting in favour on Monday by 355 votes to 77.

Abortion became legal in Northern Ireland on 31 March, following the passage last year of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. However, the details of how abortion would become legal were left to subsequent regulations that also needed parliamentary approval. Unusually, the regulations came into force at the time the Northern Ireland Secretary first laid them before Parliament, with approval happening retrospectively in subsequent votes. This meant the law could change before regulations were approved. However, such approval was still necessary for the future operation of the law – if Parliament had rejected the regulations then they would have stopped having legal force. So this final vote had real significance. It is also the first vote on the issue in the new Parliament after December’s general election.

Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists helped spearhead the campaign for legal abortion in Northern Ireland, intervening in the four landmark court cases that helped bring this change about, and working with the 100+ members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group to lobby in Westminster for reform.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are delighted that Northern Ireland’s abortion law has now completed its legislative passage. Northern Ireland has gone from having one of the worst abortion laws in Europe to one of the best. Thousands of people will now be able to access vital medical services that were previously denied to them. A long-standing historical inequality has finally been righted.’

Humanists UK will continue to work in support of further abortion reform in the UK and crown dependencies, including decriminalisation of abortion in Britain and the introduction of buffer zones around abortion clinics.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on abortion.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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