MPs call for Theresa May to permit poll on abortion in Northern Ireland

PM believes it would be wrong for Westminster to legislate on matter in devolved administration

Theresa May was facing growing demands to allow a referendum on relaxing the abortion statutes in Northern Ireland on Sunday after signalling that she will not risk alienating her DUP allies by letting MPs resolve the issues with a parliamentary vote.

Conservative MPs and the Royal College of Midwives were among those calling for a referendum, which would give voters in Northern Ireland the chance to follow the example set by the Republic of Ireland after it backed abortion liberalisation by a astonish landslide of two to one.

Around 160 MPs have backed a letter, championed by the Labour MP Stella Creasy, saying the government should legislate to relax the abortion rules in Northern Ireland, which will now be the only place in Britain and Ireland where abortion is in most circumstances illegal. Creasy wants to force-out a vote by tabling an amendment to the forthcoming domestic violence bill.

Labour also said that, as a party, it was committed to extending the right to choose to Northern Ireland and that it would be” looking at legislative options” to try to orchestrate a vote in the Commons.

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What is the law on abortion in Northern Ireland?

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Following the Irish referendum, Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK and Ireland- and most of Europe- where terminations are outlawed apart from in the most exceptional circumstances.

The UK Abortion Act of 1967 was never extended to Northern Ireland, and abortion remains illegal unless the life or mental health of the mother is at risk. Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for abortion anywhere in Europe; in theory, life imprisonment can be handed down to a woman undergoing an unlawful abortion.

Fatal foetal abnormalities and conceptions by rape or incest are not lawful grounds for a termination.

Most politicians in Northern Ireland- Catholic and Protestant- do not favour reform, despite the UN saying the UK was violating the rights of women in Northern Ireland by restricting their access to abortion.

In 2016 more than 700 females from Northern Ireland crossed the Irish Sea to clinics in Britain to terminate pregnancies.

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Downing Street’s initial reaction was to reject the idea of dedicating MPs a election, on the grounds that abortion is a devolved matter and one that should be decided by the power-sharing executive and the Northern Ireland assembly. A source used to say Theresa May’s focus was on getting the executive, which has been suspended for more than a year, “back up and running”.

But there were reports on Sunday of opponent even within the cabinet, with women and equalities pastor Penny Mordaunt saying on Twitter that the hope for change in Northern Ireland “must be met” amid calls for the region to have a referendum- although she did not specify how.

Obstacles to a parliamentary vote have prompted some MPs to argue for a referendum, which would allow the person or persons of Northern Ireland to take the final judgment , not London, while also bypassing the logjam created by the suspension of the executive.

Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP and GP who chairs the Commons health committee, told the BBC that, while she would vote in favour of pro-choice legislation for Northern Ireland, if that proved impossible a referendum was a good second best.

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” We’d all like to see the Stormont assembly back up and running and for this decision to be made by people in Northern Ireland but if that doesn’t happen … then at the least people in Northern Ireland should be allowed a referendum that enables us gauge the strength of sentiment there ,” Wollaston told the BBC.

Maria Miller, the Conservative former culture secretary who now shall be the chairman of the Commons women and equalities committee, posted a message on Twitter saying:” No one should deny the people of Northern Ireland a referendum for the opportunity to have the same rights on abortion as the rest of the UK .”

And in Northern Ireland the Royal College of Midwives’ regional director Breedagh Hughes told no one was speaking up for the “pro-choice majority” in Northern Ireland at present and the only style to give them a voice was through a referendum.

” We have 12 Democratic Unionist MPs whose views do not reflect the majority opinion on the abortion topic ,” Hughes said.” We have Sinn Fein MPs who don’t take their seats at Westminster. We don’t have a functioning local Assembly which could take this issue on again even though in the past the DUP and others vetoed change. So, the people are voiceless on the abortion topic and we say to Theresa May- give us a referendum Prime Minister so that change can come about .”

A No 10 source told May was also opposed to the idea that parliament should legislate for a referendum in Northern Ireland on the grounds that, if there were to be a referendum, that should also be matter for the Northern Ireland executive.

Under the Sewel convention, the UK government has agreed that it will not usually legislate on matters that are the responsibility of devolved administrations without their consent.

But the government is set to ignore this for the first time in Scotland, pushing ahead with the EU withdrawal bill even though the Scottish government is resisted, and May’s stance on abortion is partly motivated by a longing not to antagonise the DUP, who offer the votes that give the Tories their majority and who are strongly opposed to liberalising Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

May did not comment on the Irish referendum outcome until lunchtime on Sunday, nearly 24 hours after the final result was corroborated, when she posted a tweet congratulating the Irish people on their decision.

On a free vote, the Commons would probably vote overwhelmingly in favour of bringing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws into line with those in the rest of the UK. But the domestic violence bill, which Creasy would like to use as a vehicle for an abortion amendment, is still at the consultation phase and, even when it does come to the Commons, Downing Street thinks that the Sewel convention will ensure that Northern Ireland pertained amendments get ruled inadmissable.

Dawn Butler, the darknes minister for women and equalities, told Labour would be appearing investigating what legislative alternatives it could use to ensure MPs did get a vote on this.” No girl in the UK should be denied access to a safe, legal abortion ,” she told. But party sources would not elaborate on what those options might be.

In the past polls have revealed strong supporting in Northern Ireland for relaxing abortion statutes in at the least some circumstances, although not to the extent allowed in the rest of the UK.

Currently abortions in Northern Ireland’s hospitals are only available to women and girls where “peoples lives” or health is in grave threat; only 23 were carried out between 2013 -1 4.

The call for a referendum is opposed by some of the MPs who want to change the law in Northern Ireland. Creasy pointed out that, while a referendum was necessary in the Republic because of its constitution, that was not the case in a north. A referendum would be a move” in the wrong direction” because the law should be changed now, she said.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, told:” The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland assembly to debate and choose 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 are still articulated our position .”

Sinn Fein, the second-largest party in Northern Ireland, supports limited change to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. Michelle O’Neill, its leader in Northern Ireland, told ITV on Sunday that the region was ” becoming a backwater” in terms of rights because of the position taken by unionists.

A spokesperson for Unite, one of the largest unions representing employees in Northern Ireland, backed the RCM’s call for a referendum.

” As long as it does not in any way necessitate imposing direct regulation Unite would like Theresa May to consider the idea of a local referendum and explain to is why, if she objected, the people in Northern Ireland wouldn’t be granted one ,” a Unite spokesperson said.

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Support for Ireland’s abortion ban appears to have melted away

No campaign counted on rural votes but early exit poll suggest they didnt swaying their way

Ruth Shaw was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Irish voters who flew home or bided home, cancelled vacations or came back early, so they could cast a vote to end Ireland’s decades-old prohibition on abortion.

They supposed their votes might be needed to tip the balance. In the end, though, they joined what seems to be an unforeseen landslide of support for change.

The first exit poll, from the Irish Times/ Ipsos MRBI, showed that Dublin, as expected, had voted overwhelmingly for yes. But so too did rural areas, which the no vote had counted on to kind a bulwark of conservative is supportive of Ireland’s restrictive status quo.

” It’s great for this country, we need to step into the next century ,” said teacher Caroline Ryan, one of the first to referendum but confident even at 7am that the repeal would pass.” Every other country in Europe has access to abortion .”

The vote was a reminder, she said, of the church’s loosening grip on a country where a series of scandals, involving child abuse and mistreatment of pregnant, unmarried women and their children, have enormously undermined the clergy’s authority.” Women have been treated so badly in this country by the Catholic church ,” she added.

Voters had to help Ireland decide whether to keep a clause in its constitution, known as the 8th amendment.

Since 1983, it had set the” right to life of the unborn” on an equal status with the life of a pregnant girl, underpinning a near-total ban on abortion in Ireland, even in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. It is one of the strictest defined of rules in the western world.

For Shaw who, along with 20 family and friends had flights lined up to go to a wedding in New York when the date was defined, there was no question about what to do.

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Irish people living abroad return home to become involved in abortion referendum- video

” We changed our flights ,” she said.” It’s really important; I’ve got two daughters .” So at 6.55 am she was waiting with nine-year-old Simi outside Our Lady’s Clonskeagh Parish secondary school, second in line to cast her vote before heading to the airport.

On a day of glorious sunshine and heightened feelings, polling stations across Ireland reported high turnouts for a ballot that politicians and campaigners concurred would determine a hugely emotional issue for at least a generation.

Polls constricted in the run-up to voting, with the outcome widely expected to depend on the one in six voters who were still undecided on the eve of the poll. Many in the no camp were convinced they had a groundswell of quiet support.

” So many no voters are shy ,” said Fidelma, 45, a Dubliner who said she was wearing a no badge for the first time and was astonished to determine more than half her office of 10 people offering her support.

She had kept her positions private until the working day of the referendum because there was so much social pressure in the capital to support a repeal.” People attain us feel like we are backwards and don’t count ,” she said.

No advocates campaign from a bridge in Dublin. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images

At the ballot box, ultimately, there were not enough no voters to count. Two thirds of men, and an even higher propotion of women, opted for change, in agreement with the Irish Times.

Among the young in particular, the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of ending the ban. Nearly nine out of 10 voters between 18 and 24 voted yes, the Irish Times exit poll found.

Riodhna Mackin, 18, voting for the first time, was one of them.” I am a young woman in Ireland and I would like to have a tell over my own body, and for my friends to have the same ,” she said after casting her ballot.

The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, poses with colleagues from his Fine Gael party in Dublin before the referendum. Photo: Niall Carson/ PA

The official vote count begins on Saturday morning, with the first indications of whether the exit poll is right expected by mid-morning.

The scale of the projected victory was so immense though that resulting no campaigners conceded defeat within minutes.

The split over abortion, which reflects deep divisions about what kind of country Ireland wants to be as it reassesses its Catholic heritage and becomes more ethnically and religiously diverse, has reached profoundly into communities and families.

Elizabeth McDonald, 58, told:” I voted no because I believe I regard it as murder. We don’t need abortion in this country .”

Her son Stephen, 33, thinks the near-ban on abortion is cruel and puts women’s health in jeopardy. It is not illegal to go abroad for an abortion, so about nine females a day travel to England trying therapy. Others order abortion pills online and take them at home, risking up to 14 years in prison.

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My budget flight to get an abortion: the story no one in Ireland wants to tell- video

” I’m her son and I voted yes ,” he said, as they left the polling station together.” Abortion do happen in Ireland and I’d rather they were in a situation where it was safer for women .”

The journeys for abortions were the reason Ian Sewell, 26, travelled back from England to vote yes.” I don’t think we are voting on whether people can have abortions; we are voting on whether poor women can have abortions, because rich people already travel to England ,” he said as he left a polling station.

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Irish pro-choice campaigners recount #HomeToVote journeys online

Hashtag has been used by Irish voters travelling home to referendum yes in the abortion referendum

Whether it is boarding 13 -hour flights or thanking the strangers that have funded their journeys, Irish citizens are sharing their tales on social media as they travel home from all over the world to cast their vote in the country’s historic referendum on abortion. The hashtag #HomeToVote has been used across social media channels by those in favour of repealing the 8th amendment as they converge in Ireland to cast their votes.

Many were visibly displaying their supporting through clothing and badges, and noticed is supportive of the campaign on the way. One advocate, who flew home to canvass and vote, tweeted that his flight attendant wore a’ Ta’- the Irish for yes- badge on his flight.

IO for Yes // May 25 th (@ iarlaoh)

The flight attendant checking my ticket on the plane #hometovote this morning was wearing a “Ta” badge. 🙂

May 20, 2018

Not everyone found that fellow travellers understood the significance of their journey, however, and “ve felt it” reverberate the experience of the women who have to travel abroad for abortions under the present constitution.

” Boarding a 13 -hour flight from Buenos Aires to London. London to Dublin tomorrow. No one at airport knows what my repeal jumper means. No one here knows why I’m travelling. If this feels isolating for me, can’t imagine how lonely it must be 4 her, travelling 2 the UK ,” tweeted Ciaran Gaffney. He also posted an image of himself in his repeal jumper in Buenos Aires

The 13 hour flight I’m about to take hasn’t got a patch on the 1hr flight that your sister, your friend, the girl on your street, your mom, your employer, your colleague, individual employees, your girlfriend or any of the women of Ireland might have to take today, or had to take yesterday, or have had to take in the past 35 years. Let’s stop saying that cowardly act of exporting this issue to our neighbouring countries, and let’s #repealthe8th!

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Trump administration to revive Reagan-era abortion ‘gag’ rule

Rule will ban federally funded clinics from discussing abortion with women and bar them from sharing space with abortion providers

Donald Trump’s administration will reinstate a decades-old policy that they are able to strip federal monies from family planning clinics abortion or related services, marking its latest salvo to curtail women’s reproductive rights.

The Department of Health and Human Services will announce the proposal on Friday, an administration official confirmed to the Guardian. The move would resurrect a policy first to comply with Ronald Reagan in 1988, which effectively barred reproductive health organizations that received federal awards from providing or even discussing abortion with patients.

The policy has been mocked as a “gag rule” by abortion rights advocates and medical groups, and you are able to trigger suits that could keep it from taking consequence.

” This is an attempt to take away women’s basic rights, period ,” Dawn Laguens, the executive heads vice-president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

She added:” Everyone has the right to access information about their health care- including information about safe, legal abortion- and every woman deserves the best medical care and datum , no matter how much money she makes or where she lives. No matter what. They won’t get it under this rule .”

The Reagan-era rule never went into effect further written, although the US supreme court ruled that it was an appropriate use of executive power. The policy was repealed under Bill Clinton, and a new rule went into impact that required “nondirective” counseling to include a range of options for women.

Federal funds are already barred from was for abortion services under current US law.

The move will galvanize activists on either side of the abortion debate ahead of the congressional midterm elections.

Doctors’ groups and abortion rights supporters say a ban on counseling females trespasses on the doctor-patient relationship. They also believe such rules would avoid patients from being able to obtain family planning or other preventive care from reproductive health care providers, and undermine access to safe, legal abortion, particularly among low-income women.

Abortion opponents have long argued that a taxpayer-funded family planning program should have no connection whatsoever to abortion.

” The notion that you would withhold information from a patient does not uphold or preserve their dignity ,” told Jessica Marcella of the National Family Planning& Reproductive Health Association, which represents family planning clinics.” I cannot imagine a scenario in which public health groups would allow this effort to go unchallenged .”

She told requiring family planning clinics to be physically separate from facilities in which abortion is provided would disrupt services for women across the country.

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America also backed the move. She said:” Abortion is not healthcare or family planning and many women want natural healthcare selections, rather than hormone-induced changes .”

Abortion adversaries claim the federal family planning program in effect cross-subsidizes abortion services provided by Schemed Parenthood, whose clinics are also major recipients of grants for family planning and basic preventive care. Hawkins’s group is circulating a petition to urge lawmakers in Congress to support the Trump administration’s proposal.

Known as title X, the nation’s family-planning program serves about 4 million girls a year through clinics, at a cost to taxpayers of about $260 m. Schemed Parenthood clinics also qualify for Title X grants, but they must keep the family-planning fund separate from monies used to pay for abortions.

The Republican-led Congress has unsuccessfully tried to deny federal funds to Schemed Parenthood, and the Trump administration has vowed to religious and social conservatives that it would keep up the effort.

In one of his first acts as chairwoman, Trump reinstated a” global gag rule” policy that restricted the US government from providing funds to international family-planning organizations offering abortion-related services or information about the procedure.

Global health advocates have since bemoaned the closure of abortion facilities overseas, with developing areas the most acutely impacted. Trump afterward expanded upon the action, affecting virtually$ 9bn in funding to combat global health issues such as HIV/ Aids, Zika and malaria.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Mass protests in Poland against tightening of abortion law

Thousands join demonstrations against governments new effort to restrict access

Thousands of people have joined protests in Warsaw and other Polish cities against the most recent attempt by the conservative government to restrict access to abortion.

In Warsaw on Friday, people held banners that read “Free choice” and” A female is a human being”, and chanted mottoes demanding reproductive freedom.

Poland has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. The procedure is allowed only if the life of the foetus is at risk, there is a grave menace to the health of the mother or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

An attempt to ban all abortions in 2016 sparked mass nationwide protests by females garmented in black, forcing the government to abandon the scheme.

The latest proposed legislation would allow procedures in cases where the mother’s life was at risk or the pregnancy resulted from international crimes, but would ban abortions of foetuses with congenital disorders, including Down’s syndrome.

In Warsaw, protesters gathered at the seat of the influential Roman Catholic bishops, who are urging the farther stiffen of the law. They marched to the parliament house and later moved on to the headquarters of the ruling Law and Justice party.

A protest of hundreds of people in Wroclaw included a sign that said ” I will not give birth to a dead newborn “.

Malgorzata, 58, a psychologist, told Reuters:” I am against treating female as an inferior type of human being. I support women’s rights to decide about their bodies and their lives .”

The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks warned on Friday that the new measure ran counter to Warsaw’s human rights commitments.

” If adopted, the draft legislation would remove the possibility of terminating the pregnancy in case of severe foetal impairment, including in cases where such impairment is fatal ,” Muiznieks wrote.” This step would be at variance with Poland’s obligations under international human rights law .”

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El Salvador court upholds 30-year jail sentence in stillbirth case

Teodora del Carmen Vsquez was convicted of the aggravated murder of a newborn baby in 2008, but she says it was a stillbirth

An El Salvador court has repudiated the appeal of a woman sentenced to 30 years in prison over what she says was a stillbirth.

Teodora del Carmen Vasquez, 37, said she was working in 2007 when she began to experience intense pain, then hemorrhaging. She called for help before fainting. As she came round, police officers surrounded her and accused her of murdering her newborn by inducing an abortion of her virtually full-term baby.

Authorities charged Vasquez with aggravated assassination and she was convicted in 2008. Her attorneys appealed her sentence, presenting evidence that the baby was born dead.

The court said it relied on the government autopsy’s conclusion that the girl was born alive and asphyxiated.

The non-profit Center for Reproductive Rights, which has been campaigning for the release of dozens of other women convicted of murder in El Salvador for obstetric emergencies, said the decision was ” another slap in the face for Teodora, who never committed any crime “.

” The Salvadoran court is perpetuating the criminal prosecution of women who suffer pregnancy complications, denying girls their dignity, freedom and rights ,” said Nancy Northup, the centre’s chairman and CEO.

” El Salvador’s abortion statute criminalises and wrongfully imprisons girls. Today the Salvadoran court has been decided to deny Teodora her due process .”

Human rights group Amnesty International called the decision a step back for justice.

” Teodora’s tragic tale is a sad illustration of everything that is wrong with the justice system in El Salvador, where human rights seem to be a foreign concept ,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director.

” Instead of punishing Teodora for being a woman, authorities in El Salvador is an urgent need take a hard look at their outrageous anti-abortion statute and take immediate steps to repeal it .”

El Salvador is one of a handful of Latin American countries with total bans on abortion.

In 2014, a alliance of NGOs, led by Agrupacion Ciudadana and the Center for Reproductive Rights, launched the” Las 17” online campaign to call for the release of women who had experienced obstetric emergencies and who were charged with having an illegal abortion and then convicted of slaying. Three females have been released. But in July 19 -year old Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, who had been raped, was sentenced to 30 years for slaying after she had a stillbirth.

The two organisations have filed two cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights( IACHR) on behalf of some of the “Las17” women.

” The center, Agrupacion Ciudadana, and global partners will continue to challenge El Salvador in the courts and international human rights bodies until Teodora and the remaining females are freed ,” said Catalina Martinez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights.” This tribunal decision will not stop us from fighting for Teodora’s freedom, Las 17 and all women who have been wrongfully incarcerated under the country’s draconian abortion law .”

A glimmer of hope that El Salvador could overturn its abortion prohibition emerged earlier this year with the introduction of a parliamentary bill that proposed letting abortion in situations of rape or human trafficking, when the foetus in unviable or to protect the pregnant woman’s health or life. Recently, activists took to the streets to protest the absolute ban.

In August, Chile voted to overturn its complete ban to allow abortion in certain circumstances.

Last week Bolivia loosened its laws to allow girls and young women to access abortion services up to eight weeks into pregnancy. Prior to the change in new legislation, abortion was only available to women if “peoples lives” were in danger.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s leaked draft manifesto: what Labour would do

Labour would keep Trident, nationalise the railways and phase out tuition fees, among other policies

Details of the draft articles version of Labours pitch to the country have leaked, with Jeremy Corbyns party hoping to induce manifesto commitments to part-nationalise some public utilities and to make funds available for social care.

Below is a summary of what the party leadership would like to do in government.

Respect the Brexit referendum result and dedicate a meaningful vote on any bargain to parliament. EU citizens living in the UK would have their rights assured unilaterally. Theresa Mays Brexit white paper would be replaced with a scheme that aims to retain the added benefit of the customs union and single market.

Bring parts of the energy industry into public ownership and introduce a local, socially owned energy firm in every area. Also introduce an immediate emergency price cap to make sure dual ga bills stay below 1,000 a year.

Nationalise the railways.

Phase out tuition fees.

Make more funds available for childcare and social care.

Retain the Trident nuclear deterrent. A sentence from earlier drafts saying that a “ministers ” should be extremely cautious about use a weapon that would kill millions of innocent civilians has been removed.

Place peace, universal rights and international law at the heart of foreign policy, while committing to expend 2% of GDP on defense, as required by Nato.

Construct zero-hours contracts illegal.

Build 100,000 new council houses per year.

Complete HS2 from London to Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Scotland.

Borrow 250 bn to invest in infrastructure but stick to the fiscal credibility rule to balance day-to-day spending. Also create taxes for people earning more than 80,000 and reverse corporation and inheritance-tax cuts.

Insulate homes of disabled veterans for free.

Extend the right to abortion to Northern Ireland.

Oppose a second Scottish referendum.

Lower the voting age to 16.

Employ 1,000 more perimeter guards.

Aim the badger cull, keep the fox-hunting ban and support a ban on wild animals in circuses, as well as protecting bees by banning neonicotinoids.

Widen the Freedom of Information Act to private companies operating public service.

Review universal credit cuts with a view to reversing them.

Recognise the benefit that immigrants have brought but introduce fair rules and reasonable management, working with employers that need to recruit from abroad but deterring exploitation.