Labor MP Stella Creasy has said she will table an amendment to Britain’s forthcoming Bill of Rights to give women the fundamental right to abortion.
Creasy said she would expect MPs to have a free vote on the issue, for the sake of conscience. She told the Guardian the amendment would be tabled when the bill goes through second reading.
“Most women in the UK don’t realize that abortion is not a right, but there is only a law granting exemption from prosecution in certain circumstances,” she said. “What the United States teaches us is that we can’t just enshrine these rights in law.”
In a complex legal situation, only women in Northern Ireland have the guaranteed right to an abortion, after an amendment backed by Westminster MPs in 2019 to the NI Executive Training Bill.
Despite this, abortions in Northern Ireland remain difficult to access. The UK government has put in place a legal framework for the services, but so far they remain limited due to a standoff at Stormont.
In England and Wales, the Abortion Act 1967 legalized pregnancy terminations in Britain for up to 24 weeks in most cases. But the law is written in terms that mean abortion is not a right, but an exception when two doctors agree it would be risky to the woman’s mental or physical health. This wording has been the subject of extensive scrutiny by activists.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had given American women the constitutional right to abortion, Creasy said, “Roe v. Wade gave American women the constitutional right to have an abortion. Currently here in the UK, only women in Northern Ireland have their constitutional rights to abortion protected as a human right.
“I ask the minister a direct and simple question – if an amendment is tabled to the next bill of rights by those of us who recognize that it will be a matter of conscience and therefore a free vote, to protect the right of a woman to choose for every woman in the UK, will she join me in voting for her?”
Speaking on behalf of the government, Foreign Secretary Amanda Milling said she would not “pre-empt” the legislation. “As we discussed, it would be a matter of conscience,” she said.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has published the new bill of rights but the Commons has yet to debate it at second reading, due in the coming weeks.