Northern Ireland abortion law debate backed by MPs

Media caption,
Government ministers were among those standing to back calls for a debate

MPs have won permission for an emergency debate on the abortion law in Northern Ireland.

Members from throughout the House - including government ministers - stood to back Labour MP Stella Creasy's call for a debate.

She told MPs the impact of the Irish referendum had been "felt around the world" and had "thrown a spotlight on the situation in Northern Ireland".

Speaker John Bercow granted a three-hour debate to take place on Tuesday.

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster on Tuesday, the Labour MP and former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith said: "Although I'm a devolutionist and a respecter of devolution, the time has come for a change to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.

"I think the absence of Stormont now for so long and the seeming pessimism that is widely shared about the prospects of Stormont coming back any time soon means that it it is right for parliament to debate this issue."

The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who was also on the programme, said: "I think the moment has come when change is going to have to take place in Northern Ireland.

"What we will be doing is debating the repeal of the offences against the person act which will make it no longer criminal for someone to have an abortion in the UK or to perform an abortion."

Following last month's Irish referendum result, Northern Ireland will soon be the only part of either the UK or Ireland where abortion is illegal unless there is a serious risk to a woman's life or health.

Media caption,
The law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

There have been calls for the UK Parliament to legislate for abortion reform in Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning devolved government.

Ms Creasy wants the Offences against the Persons Act 1861 to be repealed, saying this would remove a block to abortion law reform in Northern Ireland.

Her debate will not change the law but will give MPs a chance to air their views.

Earlier Theresa May met Conservative MPs pressing for changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws amid calls for an emergency debate on the issue.

She met ex-ministers Amber Rudd, Maria Miller and Justine Greening, as well as women's minister Penny Mordaunt.

Tory rock and DUP hard place

By Gareth Gordon, BBC News NI political correspondent

On one hand, Theresa May's motivation for resisting calls to intervene to change Northern Ireland's abortion laws is obvious - for one thing she does not want to upset the Democratic Unionist Party apple cart.

On the other, where will this apparent Conservative revolt (if that's what it is) end - and how big must it grow before she cannot resist it any longer?

And then there is the DUP itself. It possesses the nuclear button of threatening to bring down the government.

But press it and we could be looking at (in DUP terms) a post-apocalypse world in which the Labour party is in power and Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister.

The PM has so far resisted calls to act in Northern Ireland following last month's landslide vote in the Irish Republic to liberalise its own laws.

No 10 says it should be dealt with by Stormont once devolution is restored.

"We recognise there are strongly-held views on all sides of the debate in Northern Ireland and that's why our focus is on restoring that democratically accountable, devolved government," Downing Street said after the meeting.

The Democratic Unionist Party, on whom Mrs May relies for her parliamentary majority, opposes changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland.

On Monday its leader Arlene Foster said some nationalist voters backed its stance.