REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS IN NORTHERN IRELAND

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Conference
2018 National Delegate Conference
Date
1 January 2018
Decision
Carried

Conference applauds the historic landslide vote by the people of the Republic of Ireland to repeal the Eighth amendment to the Irish constitution and recognises the huge victory for women’s right to choose both in the South but also as a beacon of hope for all women where ever they live who are still fighting for access to legal, free and safe abortions.

Conference recognises that not all women have the basic human right to choose what she does with her own body and welcomes the renewed call being led by the women of Northern Ireland for abortion to be decriminalised in Northern Ireland.

Conference also recognises that as we celebrate 100 years of some women’s right to vote, the 1861 Offences against the person’s act a law that was passed before this right to vote was won continues to dictate how a woman can choose what she does with her own body. With abortion continuing to be a criminal offense across the UK.

Conference notes with serious concern that following the result of the referendum in Ireland to repeal the eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, Northern Ireland will become the only jurisdiction in these islands to persist with restrictive abortion laws that breach human rights.

Conference believes that the time has come for Parliament to take clear action to address the situation.

Conference notes Theresa May’s reluctance to intervene as her Government is propped up by the anti-abortionist DUP.

Theresa May has taken the position that Westminster legislating in this area would breach the devolution settlement, something her Government seems to have no difficulty with in relation to the claw-back of powers within the EU Withdrawal Bill. Whilst both health and justice are devolved matters, this position disregards the obligation placed on the Westminster Parliament under the Good Friday Agreement to “legislate as necessary to ensure the United Kingdom’s international obligations are met in respect of Northern Ireland’’ (Paragraph 33(b), Strand 1)”.

Northern Ireland abortion law is incompatible with international human rights obligations which the UK has signed and ratified. Most recently the UN Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women has found in February 2018 that the current law on abortion in Northern Ireland “violates the rights of women in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion”. The Committee called for the repeal of legislation criminalising abortion under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and urged that the UK legislate to provide for expanded grounds to legalise abortion in a range of areas.

The UK Supreme Court has recently found that the current law in Northern Ireland is disproportionate and incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in so far as it prohibits abortion on the grounds of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. The Court however did not issue a formal declaration of incompatibility due to the manner in which the case was taken. Conference believes that the views of the court in relation to the current restrictive laws compatibility with human rights are clear. Conference considers it inevitable that the law will be deemed incompatible with the ECHR in due course.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Give our full support to the campaign to decriminalise abortion in the whole of the UK including Northern Ireland;

2)Give our full support to Abortion Rights UK the national pro-choice campaign with regions and branches considering how they can support the campaign alongside the support already given nationally;

3)Call on Labour Link to support Stella Creasy’s call within the Labour party to support a woman’s right to choose and decriminalise abortion;

4)Demand that the UK Government introduce legislation through Parliament to ensure that the law in Northern Ireland is compatible with international human rights obligations, in order to guarantee that women in Northern Ireland do not continue to suffer a serious deficit in rights protections.