.- Pro-life advocates have responded cautiously to a proposed new law to expand access to abortion nationwide and force legalization on Northern Ireland, where the practice remains illegal in all but exceptional cases.
The bill was proposed by a Labour Member of Parliament on Oct. 23.
Diana Johnson MP presented the motion as a Ten Minute Rule Bill, by which backbench MPs propose legislation to the House of Commons. It passed by a vote from 208-123, with fewer than half of members voting either for or against the bill.
Clare McCarthy, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, explained to CNA that “Ten Minute Rule Motions are generally used as profile raisers by MPs,” and that they “very rarely become law.”
By proposing this bill, McCarthy said that Johnson “appears to be trying to give the impression that there is support in Parliament for her radical proposals, ahead of bringing forward an amendment to a future government bill.”
Although the bill was passed through the initial legislative stages, the House of Commons is unlikely to allocate additional time to debate or advance the bill, Right To Life UK told CNA.
“Even though this motion has a slim chance of becoming law, pro-life groups all over the UK will recognize the risk posed by this extreme measure which threatens the safety of women and their babies,” said McCarthy.
“They will now commit themselves to ensuring its defeat so that women and babies receive the genuine care and support that they need.”
In addition to forcing legal abortion on Northern Ireland, where local legislation prohibits it except as a life-saving measure for the mother, the proposed bill would establish some of the world’s most permissive abortion laws throughout the United Kingdom.
The bill would make void the Abortion Act 1967, which established a 24-week limit on the procedure throughout Great Britain, and requires women to get approval from two doctors before undergoing an abortion.
According to Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, the proposed changes are “not only unconstitutional” but also “untimely” given the state of relations between England and Northern Ireland.
Speaking in debate over the bill, Bruce warned that its passage would “set a dangerous constitutional precedent of interference” that would “completely undermine the substance and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Bruce also raised the point that people living in Northern Ireland do not appear to want legal abortion. In 2016, a majority of people living in the province voted to keep their current abortion law. Recent polling by ComRes shows that about two thirds of Northern Irish women believed that it was up to Northern Ireland–and not MPs throughout the rest of the UK–to decide if, and when, abortion were to be made legal.
This number was even higher amongst people between the ages of 18 and 34, with 70 percent saying that the British parliament should not dictate abortion law in Northern Ireland.
Additional ComRes polling has suggested that many people in the UK are uncomfortable with the country’s current abortion laws. A total of 70 percent of people surveyed were in favor of lowering the UK’s current limit of 24 weeks, which is among the most permissive in Europe.
Over nine out of 10 women surveyed said they support an explicit ban on sex- selective abortion.