Labour Shadow Ministers have urged Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights to support the liberalisation of Northern Ireland’s abortion law, claiming it is “vital healthcare”.
In a letter to the committee’s Chairman, five Labour MPs, four of whom are Shadow Ministers, asserted that women are denied a ‘human right’ when they are not given easy access to abortion.
Currently in Northern Ireland abortion is only allowed if the mother’s life is at risk.
The letter, highlighted by The Guardian, is signed by MPs Jo Stevens, Diana Johnson, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Sharon Hodgson and Karin Smyth.
It claims that abortion is “vital healthcare” which Northern Irish women are being denied.
It continues: “These women have the right to expect their human rights to be recognised and protected by the UK parliament and therefore we ask that you make this situation a priority for your committee.”
Responding to the letter, The Christian Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer, Callum Webster, said he was “saddened” to hear abortion described as a human right.
Mr Webster said: “When people talk about human rights you think of the right to life, safety, security and a hope for the future.
“But this letter calls for unborn babies across Northern Ireland to be denied these very things.
“When will politicians wake up to the fact that unborn children are human beings too, endowed with the same dignity and rights as the rest of us.”
At the end of last year the High Court in Belfast ruled that abortion laws in Northern Ireland are “incompatible” with human rights legislation.
In a lengthy judgment, Mr Justice Horner said that not allowing abortion when an unborn baby has a severely life-limiting condition is a “gross interference” with a woman’s “personal autonomy”.
However, the judgment did not take into account the possibility of misdiagnosis in the womb, or the fact that children diagnosed with a ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ can live for a short time after birth.
In cases of sexual crime, the ruling said not letting the mother have an abortion places a “disproportionate burden” on her.
After the ruling Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin QC, lodged an appeal, describing the decision as “profoundly disappointing”.
In the rest of the UK, the legal limit for abortion is 24 weeks, but if the child is disabled abortion is allowed up to term.