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'They have suffered long enough': Pressure mounts on Theresa May to legislate for change to Northern Ireland abortion law

May has responded to those calls by saying that the issue is for the North to decide.

Ireland abortion laws Large crowds took to the streets of Belfast yesterday calling for a change to Northern Ireland's abortion legislation. Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

THERE WILL BE no concerns raised over women in Northern Ireland travelling across the border to access abortion services, a government spokesperson has said.

When asked at today’s Cabinet meeting about abortions for Northern Irish women, the response was that there’s nothing to stop women from Northern Ireland going to Britain, so there wouldn’t be any concern about women travelling south of the border either.

It was also said during the meeting that abortions “will be available to those who need it, full stop” and that it is proposed to have abortion available under the General Medical Services scheme, which means it would be available to medical card holders.

A spokesperson at the Cabinet meeting said that in relation to the Dáil debates on the abortion legislation, it remains the case that Fine Gael Oireachtas members will have a free vote on the issue.

Pressure building

This evening’s Cabinet meeting came as pressure continues to mount on British Prime Minister Theresa May to back legislation on abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

However, May has responded to those calls by saying that the issue is for the North to decide.

Currently, there is no government in Northern Ireland. The Stormont Assembly collapsed early last year after Martin McGuinness withdrew from the joint-government between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

A succession of talks and negotiations have failed to reestablish the Assembly since.

Abortion up to 24 weeks is legal in Great Britain, meaning Northern Ireland will be the only region on the island of Ireland and the UK where pregnancy terminations in most cases are banned.

Legislate without further delay’

Speaking to the BBC, Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti said: “I am calling on May, a self-identifying feminist, to negotiate with the parties in Northern Ireland and then to legislate without further delay.

“The problem is that this is an issue of fundamental human rights. The women of Northern Ireland have suffered long enough.”

Chakrabarti added that “the test of feminists is whether they stick up for all women”.

Manchester terror attack anniversary British Prime Minister Theresa May Source: Peter Byrne via PA Images

Speaking to Sky News, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said that he does not think that it is sustainable that “the women of Northern Ireland be denied [abortion] and be out-of-place from the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom”.

“These things are usually a free vote and have to be done in consultation with the parties of Northern Ireland but I would think that women in Northern Ireland should have the same rights that women here in England have and women in the rest of Ireland,” he added.

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‘Taking notes’

Following the outcome of Ireland’s abortion referendum, DUP leader and former Stormont Assembly First Minister Arlene Foster said that they were “taking note” of the results of the Republic’s referendum, with 66% voting in favour of liberalising its abortion laws.

Foster, whose party is pro-life, said that there was no constitutional ban on abortion in the North, meaning the issue was a matter for politicians to debate.

(If there’s a provision or protection for something in the constitution, it can only be removed or amended if the public votes to do so in a referendum.)

Foster said earlier this week:

“The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues. Some of those who wish to circumvent the Assembly’s role may be doing so simply to avoid its decision.

The DUP is a pro-life party and we will continue to articulate our position. It is an extremely sensitive issue and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration.

“I want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly restored and put no preconditions on the immediate establishment of an Executive. Some of those demanding change are the same people blocking devolution or demanding that Westminster change the law whilst simultaneously opposing Direct Rule.”

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