Without government support bill unlikely to become law

The first reading of the Abortion Bill was passed by 208 to 123, majority 85 in the Commons on Tuesday.

Six of the DUP MPs voted against the bill. They were Gregory Campbell, Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson, Jim Shannon, David Simpson and Sammy Wilson. MP Emma Little Pengelly was a teller meaning she counted the votes but could not take part.

It was listed for a second reading on November 23 but is unlikely to become law in its current form without Government support or sufficient parliamentary time.

The private member’s bill  was tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson aiming to remove sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that make abortion a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The 1967 Abortion Act in England and Wales provided for exemptions to the 1861 Act, enabling legal abortions.

On Wednesday, fellow Labour MPs will attempt to amend a bill the Government is tabling in response to the ongoing power-sharing crisis.

The amendments proposed by MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn aim to use the bill to compel the Government to push through changes to abortion and same sex marriage laws in Northern Ireland.

Abortions in Northern Ireland are currently illegal in all but exceptional medical and mental health circumstances.

The Government has so far resisted pressure to step in to legislate for reform in the wake of a recent Supreme Court judgment that found the current legal framework incompatible with human rights laws.

In June, a majority of Supreme Court judges said the ban on terminations in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality needed “radical reconsideration”.

Given there are no ministers at Stormont due to the power-sharing impasse, pro-choice campaigners have demanded the laws are changed at Westminster.