45,000-signature petition to change abortion laws handed in at Stormont

A petition signed by 45,000 people calling for changes to the current abortion laws in Northern Ireland has been submitted to the Assembly.

A demonstration was held at the steps of Parliament Buildings on Tuesday before Green Party MLA Clare Bailey formally presented Amnesty International’s petition to the Speaker.

It comes just days after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that she would explore the possibility that women from Northern Ireland could access abortions free of charge through NHS Scotland.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said: “Responsibility for bringing Northern Ireland's laws on abortion into line with international human rights standards rests with the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“This petition echoes the findings of opinion polling published last month which showed that more than seven in ten people in Northern Ireland want to see our abortion laws made fit for the twenty-first century, rather than the nineteenth.

“We have welcomed the commitment of Scotland’s First Minister to explore what can be done for Northern Ireland women and girls via NHS Scotland. But our message to Assembly members today is: get our own house in order by overhauling our scandalous abortion laws.”

Clare Bailey MLA said: “Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are in breach of minimum human rights standards; they have been found to be so by the courts. Everyone is well aware of this, and therefore it is a shameful indictment on the Assembly that I even have to bring this petition forward.

“Over 45,000 have put their name to this petition. Over 70% of people in Northern Ireland want to see abortion laws changed. Despite this overwhelming endorsement of change; when the issue was brought before the Assembly in February, just fifty-nine MLAs blocked even the most minimal of reforms.

“People who stand in the way of change on this issue are out of line with public opinion, and they are out of line with human rights. That is the message that I will be giving to them in the Assembly today.

“The fact that, in response to a Scottish Green Party question, we now have the First Minister of Scotland saying that she will look into allowing Northern Irish women to access abortions free of charge in Scotland further shows how ridiculous the law is here.

“I welcome Nicola Sturgeon’s intervention, but also hope that her response is ultimately unnecessary, and that we can change the laws here so that women do not need to travel in order to access healthcare.”