I have had several constituents contact me about the proposed abortion framework in Northern Ireland.
I want to be very clear: I completely support a woman’s right to have a safe and legal abortion, anywhere in the United Kingdom. That obviously includes Northern Ireland.
The vote last week was not about that, and did not change that. Abortion remains legal in Northern Ireland, and I believe that is right.
This vote was about the regulations governing the framework of provision.
Over the days before the vote I listened very carefully to arguments on both sides, and spent a great deal of time considering my vote.
Ultimately, I voted no, because having read further evidence from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, from disability campaigners and from health experts, I did not feel justified in agreeing to a regulatory system which is substantially more liberal than the one applying in the rest of the UK.
I was particularly struck by the argument of disability campaigners such as Lord Shinkwin, whom I greatly respect. As he said in the House of Lords, allowing these regulations is a form of disability discrimination, and I could not in good conscience accede to regulations that would have permitted full-term abortions for non life-threatening conditions such as cleft palate and club foot.
Furthermore, I was concerned by the lower threshold for medical certification of a single medical professional (which could be a nurse or midwife) rather than two doctors, as in Britain.
Abortion is officially a devolved matter, and this vote was only ever due to take place in Westminster because the NI Assembly was not sitting. It now is, and consequently should be taking these decisions itself. I was reassured that the Assembly would be obliged to introduce its own regulations that were fully compliant with CEDAW (the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). Beyond that, I believe it is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, to decide what the detailed abortion regime should be in the province.