A dangerous new abortion bill is coming up in the House of Commons on Tuesday 23 October 2018. This is another bill being introduced by Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Hull North, which again seeks to remove criminal sanctions for abortion, in other words to decriminalise abortion.
The bill is being introduced under the Ten Minute Rule. Such bills are used to raise a particular issue in the House of Commons and do not generally reach the statute book. However, the outcome of Ms Johnson's bill will be significant in terms of future parliamentary action by the pro-abortion lobby.
Abortion is a highly sensitive issue, regardless of where your view lies and one where it is important that the matter is considered with due care and respect. Accordingly, the Government's policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience, such as this.
I do, however, have concerns about the points raised in the Diana Johnson's Ten Minute Rule Bill. I do not support the repealing of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 for several reasons. Primarily, repealing those two sections does not solve the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland, as without any new provisions it offers no safeguards for women, and would impact on England and Wales, as well as Northern Ireland.
The 1967 Abortion Act provides defences against the criminal law offences contained in the 1861 Act. If these offences were removed then abortion would in effect be decriminalised and no legal framework would be in place, including no gestational time limits. A new legal framework would be needed to replace those provisions, which is rightly a devolved matter which locally accountable politicians in Northern Ireland should have the opportunity to debate and consider.
The measures in the Bill also go a lot further than current debate in Northern Ireland, so it is important legislation is not imposed on Northern Ireland and we allow local politicians the opportunity to represent the views of the people of Northern Ireland. This is why this Government's priority is to restore devolved government at the earliest opportunity.