Thursday, October 23, 2008 The Irish Times
Northern pro-choice campaign may take legal action
FRANK MILLAR, London Editor
LEGAL ACTION on grounds of discrimination may be the last hope of pro-choice and equality campaigners after the failure of a parliamentary effort to extend the 1967 British Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
As expected, the Labour government successfully carried a timetabling motion in the House of Commons yesterday which effectively killed off a series of proposed amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.
The sponsor of one of those, Labour MP Diane Abbott, described the government’s unwillingness to discuss the extension of the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland as “shabby”. But Ms Abbott was sharply criticised by DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who told MPs they should “leave the matter to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives”.
The four main parties in Northern Ireland were united in their opposition to the proposed amendment, which campaigners saw as the likely “last chance” to extend the British legislation to Northern Ireland before any transfer of policing and justice powers to the Stormont Assembly.
Senior Alliance Party sources last night said they thought it was extremely unlikely the party would make abortion an issue in any negotiations that could see it take the policing and justice ministry as part of any resolution of the current DUP/Sinn Féin standoff.
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s Commons vote, SDLP chairman and South Down MP Eddie McGrady stressed the importance of securing the devolution of policing and justice powers.
Forced back to the drawing board by yesterday’s Commons vote, a number of those campaigning for the liberalisation of the law in Northern Ireland confirmed that legal action remained an option – with “discrimination” against citizens in part of the UK, rather than the right to have an abortion, the likely basis for any legal challenge in the British or European courts.
Controversial new legislation allowing scientists to conduct experiments using hybrid human-animal embryos was approved by the House of Commons last night despite a small rebellion by Labour backbenchers.
The staunchly Catholic former minister Ruth Kelly was one of 16 Labour MPs who voted against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.Pro-choice MPs were furious that no time was made available to debate their calls for the law to be liberalised to allow terminations to be conducted with the approval of one doctor rather than two and for abortion to be legalised in Northern Ireland.