POLITICS
05/06/2018 19:14 BST

Stella Creasy References The Handmaid's Tale During Impassioned Plea To Liberalise Abortion In Northern Ireland

'This is not Gilead and we should not be scared to speak up for the rights of women.'

Labour MP Stella Creasy made an impassioned case for abortion law to be liberalised in Northern Ireland - while referencing The Handmaid’s Tale.  

The Walthamstow MP wants Parliament to repeal sections of a 150-year-old law called the Offences Against the Person Act.

The UK-wide legislation continues to criminalise terminations in Northern Ireland, but Creasy argues women “deserve modern abortion laws”. 

During a debate following the landslide Irish referendum, Creasy told the Commons: “This is not Gilead and we should not be scared to speak up for the rights of women.” 

She told MPs that “men and women will never truly be free whilst one cannot control what happens to one’s own body”, before adding “as the residents of Gilead have shown us, it is fundamental to human rights”.  

The MP was citing Margaret Atwood’s fictional dystopia Gilead - a brutal, autoritarian regime in which women are enslaved and forced into pregnancy. It is being televised on Channel 4 starring the award-winning actor Elizabeth Moss. 

Hulu
Cast of The Handmaid's Tale, which is being shown on Channel 4.

Creasy revealed she had already received abuse online for speaking up. 

She said: “Judging by the emails I’ve had today it’s either mine or my mother’s fault. I made the mistake that many MPs make of actually reading my emails today.”

One email, which she read, said: “Your views are a disgrace to humanity and a betrayal of the truly innocent, women can always say no or keep their clothes on.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips and Tory Heidi Allen both disclosed their personal experience of abortion during a debate which saw a huge number of emotive speeches. 

This is a statement of intent. We want deeds not just words. Labour MP Stella Creasy

Birmingham Yardley MP Phillips said “we are not criminals” and spoke of “hundreds” of responses she had received from women in Northern Ireland. 

She raised the case of one woman with mental health issues, an abusive partner, no money and no sense of where she was going.

MPs heard the woman said: “I didn’t want to be pregnant and that’s really why I went to England.

“Afterwards, I felt sore but mostly angry that I’d been made to board a plane because the Government that laid claim to my country demanded it, and legislates better for its English citizens than for its Northern Irish people.

“Because Westminster allows our women to be deprived of the basic human rights they give to their English citizens.”

Allen, who represents Cambridgeshire, said it was an “incredibly hard decision” to have an abortion but that the Irish referendum result spoke volumes.

Heidi Allen
Tory MP Heidi Allen broke down in the House of Commons 

She asked: “How can it be that Northern Ireland will soon be the only part of Great Britain and Ireland where terminations are to all intents and purposes outlawed?”

She went on to question how rape, incest or a fatal foetal abnormality are not sufficient grounds for a woman to have the “power to decide for herself”.

Creasy said Westminster should update the Offences Against the Person Act while the Stormont assembly remains suspended, adding the vast majority of the Northern Irish public support abortion.

But Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said while she “personally” wanted to see “reform”, it was “a matter for the people of Northern Ireland”.

She said: “This is a matter of conscience: a free vote on this issue in this House would be afforded if the matter of abortion comes before the House again, and the same applies in Northern Ireland.”

Bradley said the referendum in Ireland was “undoubtedly a significant moment in the history of that country”, but said its “read-across to the situation in the United Kingdom has to be treated with care”.

PA Wire/PA Images
The DUP have blocked abortion reform in Northern Ireland using a mechanism called a 'petition of concern' at Stormont.

While there is thought to be a majority in the Commons for liberalising abortion law in Northern Ireland, Tory and DUP MPs stood to oppose the proposal, saying it would “impose” one of the most liberal abortion regimes anywhere in the world.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said, if pushed through, there would be “no regulatory framework in Northern Ireland whatsoever to govern legal abortions”.

Pro-life Tory MP Fiona Bruce argued if the change were to go ahead “the Abortion Act’s safeguards would in fact be removed”.

The Congleton MP added: “The proposers of this debate clearly want to go further, they want to decriminalise our legislation to remove the safeguards that have been in place.

“Already we have some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world and yet campaigners want to I believe liberalise them further.”

In 2016, 724 women travelled to the mainland from Northern Ireland for an abortion. 

Summing up, Creasy said the proposal would not affect current abortion law, and added: “This is a statement of intent. We want deeds not just words.

“The women of Northern Ireland, indeed the women of England and Wales, deserve modern abortion laws and we intend to work to give it to them.”