Corbyn attacks DUP after they insist Westminster should not meddle on abortion
Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at the DUP after it insisted Westminster should not meddle with Northern Ireland’s strict abortion regime.
As the Commons was holding an emergency debate on termination laws, the Labour leader insisted Parliament had a responsibility to respect human rights standards.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that abortion is a devolved matter and should only be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is currently suspended.
Mr Corbyn said: “I would say very politely to Arlene Foster, you were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, maybe you should play your part in ensuring that Assembly functions and we get a devolved administration working in Northern Ireland.
“In the absence of it, then clearly the UK Parliament has responsibility to adhere to human rights standards, and there is a Supreme Court decision coming on Thursday.
“Labour’s position has always been that abortion rights should be extended, without fear or favour, across the whole of the UK.”
The Government has faced intense cross-party calls to liberalise Northern Ireland’s abortion laws following the landslide pro-choice referendum victory in the Irish Republic last month.
Mr Corbyn’s comments came as MPs were debating on Tuesday repealing sections of a 150-year-old law that criminalises abortion.
Labour MP Stella Creasy pushed for the debate to discuss doing away with parts of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill welcomed the Westminster debate, describing it as a “first step” on the road to abortion reform in Northern Ireland.
Mrs O’Neill said she wanted repeal of the relevant sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act to ensure abortion was no longer treated as a criminal offence in the region.
She called for the UK and Irish governments to then come together under a peace process construct called the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to discuss how to change the laws on terminations in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein supports abortion in extreme cases, like foetal abnormality.
However, the republican party is due to consider whether to change to support unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks at its ard fheis (party conference) later this month.
“I welcome the fact that MPs are talking about decriminalising this issue because women have been criminalised here for far too long,” said Mrs O’Neill.
“Women have been criminalised when they find themselves in very, very difficult circumstances, so we welcome that debate but clearly we need to see legislative change here in the north.”
Mrs O’Neill said she would prefer to be enacting changes at Stormont but that was impossible due to the current powersharing impasse – a logjam she blamed on the DUP.
She added: “I for one want to be a legislator that brings about that change, but because of the DUP’s denial of rights, and the fact we don’t have an institution, because of the DUP’s denial of rights what we need to see is the inter-governmental conference to meet and for them to deal with the rights-based issues, including the issue of women’s healthcare.”
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