Ministers are making a women’s rights campaigner “relive the trauma” of an abortion ordeal by refusing to extend new domestic violence legislation to Northern Ireland, Labour MP Stella Creasy has said.
Ministers have refused to broaden the government’s flagship Domestic Abuse Bill to include the region amid claims the move would upset the government’s confidence-and-supply partners – the DUP.
The news emerged as Belfast woman Sarah Ewart launched a High Court challenge after being denied an abortion in Northern Ireland in 2013, despite doctors saying her baby would not survive outside the womb.
Ewart went to England for a termination, but was left in turmoil over the added hardship, emotional and financial stress the journey caused her. Her case is that the refusal of an abortion in Northern Ireland amounted to the UK breaching her human rights.
Speaking during an urgent question in the House of Commons, Creasy, who wanted to amend the legislation to liberalise abortion in Northern Ireland, said those who limited the bill’s scope are “hiding behind devolution” and should apologise.
The real aim in limiting the bill, said Creasy, was to keep the DUP on-side.
But Home Office minister Victoria Atkins refused to budge and said there had been “no change” and the bill would “expand to England and Wales only”.
As it stands, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where in almost every circumstance it is illegal to get an abortion – including when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and when there is a severe foetal abnormality which means the baby would not survive outside the womb.
Creasy, who claims ministers are also failing to protect migrant women, said the bill was drafted “not with victims of domestic violence in mind but their partners in the coalition” and demanded ministers go “back to the drawing board”.
She said: “This bill shows the human consequences for women across the UK of the confidence-and-supply agreement.”
Creasy urged the government to commit to “protect every victim across the UK”.
She said: “Can she stop hiding behind devolution and say sorry to Sarah Ewart for making her relive the trauma of what has happened to her all over again just because the government needs those 10 votes of the DUP to stay in power. We saw that last night and I’ve no doubt we’ll see it again.”
She added: “Minister, fight us fair and square on abortion rights in this place, not through backroom deals and bargaining, unless it will take a rape victim having to come to court to make this government do the right thing and not block this change. Put DV (domestic violence), not the DUP, first.”
The High Court in Belfast has been urged to find that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are incompatible with human rights legislation.
Ewart’s case comes after the Supreme Court ruled last year that abortion laws in the region were in breach of human rights legislation.
Atkins said the “landmark” bill was aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders to stop the cycle of violence.
She said: “The bill will cement a statutory definition of domestic abuse that extends beyond violence to include emotional, psychological and economic abuse.”
She said the subject matter of the draft bill was “devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland”, adding: “We are currently in discussion with the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland department of justice about whether they wish to extend any of the provisions of the bill to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.”
She added: “She [Creasy] has quite rightly highlighted the fact it applies at the moment only to England and Wales and the reason for that is ... that the underlying offences which would support prosecutions of domestic abuse are devolved.”
She went on: “Don’t believe everything you read in the paper.”