Theresa May will oppose plans to let MPs vote to liberalise Northern Ireland’s oppressive abortion laws, Downing Street has signalled.
The prime minister believes that it would be wrong for Westminster to legislate on a matter that should be decided by the devolved administration in Belfast and ministers fear that imposing pro-choice laws on Northern Ireland could backfire.
But May is likely to face strong pressure to allow a parliamentary vote, with her cabinet colleague Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, saying at the weekend that the hope for change in Northern Ireland “must be met” amid calls for the region to have a referendum.
The landslide vote in favour of liberalising abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland has put the spotlight on Northern Ireland, which will be the only place in the British Isles where abortion is in most circumstances illegal.
The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to the region, and abortion is only allowed if the life or mental health of the mother is at risk.
On Sunday a Downing Street source said May believed abortion reform was “an issue for Northern Ireland” and that the problem highlighted the need for the power-sharing executive at Stormont, which has been in abeyance since it collapsed in January last year, to be restored.
Sir Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, said on Sunday that the deadlock in Northern Ireland meant that the Westminster government was entitled to take the initiative.
“In Northern Ireland women have suffered from antiquated, inhumane criminalisation for far too long. Theresa May cannot remain silent on this issue,” he said.
“Since there is, effectively, direct rule from Westminster, the UK government has the responsibility. It can and should take the opportunity to deal with this issue properly.”
Source: The Guardian