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Evidence that campaigners and MPs want to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to decriminalise abortion

Draft Domestic Abuse Bill: Territorial Extent, Debate House of Commons, 30 January 2019 Vol 653:

Stella Creasy: “The Sunday Times provided the answer this weekend, with confirmation that the Bill had been vetted by the Cabinet Office and that the Government feared making the Bill UK-wide because of the Democratic Unionist party. Why? Because this Bill is also about implementing the convention on violence against women—a convention the United Nations has said that we are breaching right now, because citizens in Northern Ireland are denied the right to choose not to continue an unwanted pregnancy.

This Bill from the outset could have been the remedy, but this weekend’s revelations show that the Government have drafted the Bill with a mind not to the victims of domestic violence but to their partners in the coalition…

Given that this is a draft Bill, will the Minister commit to going back to the drawing board and coming up with a Bill that helps to protect every victim across the UK? I ask the Minister to fight us fair and square on abortion rights in this place, not through backroom deals and bargaining.”

Anna Soubry: “I am gravely concerned that this is, in effect, a way of stopping what should be happening: a fundamental reform of the laws in Northern Ireland so that women in Northern Ireland have exactly the same rights as women in my constituency.”

Carolyn Harris: “We already know that in Northern Ireland they have no coercive control law and no stalking law, and the current controversy over the legality of abortion rumbles on.”

Huw Merriman: “The Supreme Court judgment made it absolutely clear that lawmakers would have to change the law to give greater rights to women from Northern Ireland in the circumstances that were discussed. The women who my colleagues and I met and women such as Sarah Ewart should not have ​to go all the way through a court process to get their rights—it adds insult to injury for them. I ask the Minister, who always listens: if not this law, what law will be introduced by this Parliament, which unlike Northern Ireland is responsible for treaty compliance, to give those rights to women, who deserve them?”

‘135 MPs and peers call for abortion legislation to be introduced in Northern Ireland’, Belfast Telegraph

“135 MPs and peers have sent a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd calling on her to legislate for equal access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland.

Marking International Women’s Day, the cross-party group has urged the Minister for Women and Equalities to use the forthcoming Domestic Violence Bill which is intending to ratify the Istanbul Convention (The Council of Europe Convention on Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence) to provide for women in Northern Ireland to have equal access to abortion services to other UK citizens.”

Letter from Stella Creasy to Amber Rudd, 8th march 2018, signed by 135 MPs and peers

Vote 100 and International Women’s Day Debate, House of Commons, 8thmarch 2018, Vol 637

Amber Rudd:Today, I am proud to announce the launch of the Government’s consultation on tackling domestic abuse, which will help to inform the introduction of the domestic abuse Bill.”

Stella Creasy:The Minister will know that, last week, the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women said that the way we treat women in Northern Ireland, denying them access to abortion in their home nation, is a form of violence against women. Today, 135 parliamentarians from throughout the House have written to her asking her to commit to providing an opportunity to put that right in the legislation she is talking about. Will she give us a right to vote to give women in Northern Ireland equal access to abortion rights?”

Engagements, House of Commons, 13 June 2018 Vol 642

Jo Stevens: “It is almost a year since the Government promised their domestic violence and abuse Bill, and the publication of that Bill will trigger a cross-party amendment that has widespread support to decriminalise abortion across the whole of the UK, which is long overdue. Will the Bill be published before the summer recess, and will the Prime Minister give a commitment today on the Floor of the House that her MPs will have a free vote on decriminalisation?”

Business of the House, House of Commons, 7th June 2018, Vol 642

Stella Creasy:Will the Leader of the House update us on when the domestic abuse Bill—which could prevent a rape victim from having to give testimony in open court about their human rights breaches when it comes to abortion—will come to the House so that we can vote on repealing the Offences Against the Person Act 1861?”

Offences Against the Person Act 1861 Debate, House of Commons, 5th June 2018, vol 642

Stella Creasy: The Government are currently consulting on the domestic abuse legislation. Indeed, I previously met the former Home Secretary to discuss this and the opportunity that Bill presents for us to make progress.

Dr Wollaston: We know that there is an opportunity to put this right with an amendment to the domestic violence Bill, and I say to Ministers that now is the time to plan ahead for that, rather than looking the other way and saying that this is purely a devolved matter. We know that a cross-party amendment will be tabled, and now is the time to be planning ahead and making the thoughtful, careful preparations that we need to make about the kind of medical regulations we wish to see in place…I ask Ministers to start preparing for the inevitable cross-party amendments. I hope that the Minister in summing up will be clear that there will be no delay in the domestic violence Bill for fear of a controversial amendment, because an amendment will be tabled, and now is the time to ensure that all the regulations we need are carefully and thoughtfully consulted upon.

Submissions to the Joint Committee on Human Rights: pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill:

Submission from BPAS:

“BPAS has been working over the past year with a cross-party group of MPs who have made clear their intention to use this bill as a vehicle by which to decriminalise abortion in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.”

Submission from Alliance for Choice:

“The scope of this Bill must be amended with haste. The unprecedented political circumstances with regard to the devolved Assembly, reinforce rather than mitigate the responsibilities of Westminster. There are clear overlaps between protecting women from violence and providing access to safe, legal and local abortion healthcare and there are strong links between a person’s migrant status and her ability to seek recourse to safety and services in light of Domestic Abuse or sexual violence. Omitting the extent of the Bill which would allow for the provisions needed in these circumstances, omits many of the most vulnerable victims from the intent of the ratification of such a treaty.”

Submission from Humanists UK:

“In our joint response to the initial consultation on the terms of the Domestic Abuse Bill in June 2018, Humanists UK and Faith to Faithless raised two areas of concern that we hoped would be addressed in this legislation.1 These were the provision for legal access to abortion services in Northern Ireland, which is prevented under sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) 1861

Although we agree that it is not appropriate to extend extra-territorial jurisdiction to offences relating to consensual abortion, it is disappointing that this Bill does not contain reference to sections 58 and 59 of the OAPA, which is the legislative framework that maintains the restrictions on abortion in Northern Ireland, and which would need to be repealed in order for the UK to be compliant with its Convention obligations.”

Submission from Amnesty International:

“2.2 Our submission focuses on how the criminalisation of abortion represents violence against women, is in breach of international human rights obligations and leaves women across the UK vulnerable to reproductive coercion, in the form of birth control sabotage, forced pregnancy and prosecution.

2.4 The exclusion of Northern Ireland from the draft Bill violates article 4 (3) of the Istanbul Convention as it does not provide equal protections for all survivors of domestic abuse – regardless of national or social origin. In order to meet the stated aim of complying with the Istanbul Convention, this Bill should extend to Northern Ireland where much needed, and long overdue of abortion law reform has stalled since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive in January 2017.”

Women & Equalities Committee, ‘Abortion law in Northern Ireland’ Inquiry, Oral Session, 24th January 2019

“Grainne Teggart: There is legislation currently; the Government has published the draft bill. As I understand it, it will not be moved until after summer recess. The Domestic Violence Bill could potentially be a vehicle under the Offences Against the Person Act.”