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  1. ITV Report

Celebrities pen letter to PM on NI abortion law

Claire Foy, Olivia Coleman and Kate Beckinsale are among the signatories. Credit: PA / Reuters

Hollywood actress Kate Beckinsale has given her support to the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

She was among more than 60 female celebrities to write an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May.

Northern Ireland has some of the tightest restrictions on the procedure and the issue is due to be raised in Parliament on Friday as part of a campaign for change.

The letter supported by stars from the worlds of acting, television and fashion was also signed by Doctor Who's Jodie Whittaker and Strictly Come Dancing presenter Claudia Winkleman.

It said: "This Friday, women across the UK will be waiting with anxiety and fear as their reproductive rights are debated in Parliament. We're counting on you (Theresa May) and your government to stand with women and decriminalise abortion.

"Give us choice and control over our own bodies. Show women from Northern Ireland that you won't stand for them being governed by one of the harshest and cruellest abortion laws in the world.

"Show us that you value and champion the rights of all women, no matter which part of the UK they're from."

A termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The 1967 Abortion Act which governs the rest of the UK was not extended to Northern Ireland.

A Private Members' Bill which would decriminalise terminations in the region is due to be debated at Westminster on Friday.

Among others who signed the open letter are Dame Emma Thompson, Claire Foy, who played the Queen in the Netflix hit drama The Crown and her successor in the role, Olivia Colman.

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood also joined a call for reform supported by Amnesty International.

Almost 50,000 others have signed a petition calling for the decriminalisation of abortion.

Northern Ireland's biggest political party, the DUP, which holds strong Christian values, supports restrictions on terminations and has prevented change in the past.

Labour MP Diana Johnson, who has brought forward the decriminalisation Bill, said: "The situation in Northern Ireland is grave and urgent.

"My decriminalisation Bill has support from almost every UK political party and will be in Parliament on Friday. The Government must give it the time it needs to progress.

"Women need this change. Abortion is a healthcare and human rights issue. It's time it was treated as such."

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK's Northern Ireland campaign manager, said, "Women in Northern Ireland are being failed by a lack of Government action, forced to live with the cruel reality of Northern Ireland's strict near total abortion ban every day.

She continued, "The UK Government must give time for the Bill to go through Parliament so that MPs have the opportunity to stop the criminalisation of healthcare services and support the rights of women - including those in Northern Ireland."

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  • Read the letter in full

Dear Prime Minister Theresa May

This Friday, women across the UK will be waiting with anxiety and fear as their reproductive rights are debated in Parliament. We’re counting on you and your government to stand with women and decriminalise abortion.

Give us choice and control over our own bodies. Show women from Northern Ireland that you won’t stand for them being governed by one of the harshest and cruellest abortion laws in the world. Show us that you value and champion the rights of all women, no matter which part of the UK they’re from.

It’s not right that the abortion law treats women as criminals for accessing a service freely available to all other women in the UK. It’s unacceptable that anyone in need of abortion would be forced through pregnancies against their will.

Your government’s scheme to provide free abortion services in England for women from Northern Ireland is welcome, but this means the only option for women is to undertake a traumatic journey to undergo the procedure alone and away from home. For some women – like those in abusive relationships – travelling isn’t an option at all. The current law is violent, cruel and degrading.

No woman takes the decision to have an abortion lightly. It’s a difficult thing for anyone to have to go through. The least we can do is create a country where women can access the service safely in a place close to home, without the threat of a prison sentence. Ireland recently voted overwhelmingly to relax their restrictive abortion law. Now it’s time for the women of Northern Ireland. They cannot be left behind.

We keep hearing the excuse that abortion in Northern Ireland is a matter for a devolved government. But this is simply not true. The UK Government is ultimately responsible for ensuring the rights of citizens – including those in Northern Ireland – are upheld. Northern Ireland hasn’t had a devolved government in almost two years. Human rights can’t go out the window in the meantime.

Women in the UK shouldn’t have their rights denied simply because of the region they live in. An affront to women in Northern Ireland hurts us all. The law must change, and there is now huge support for Westminster to decriminalise abortion. Politicians from across UK, midwives, doctors, lawyers, judges, human rights organisations like Amnesty International and - most importantly - women and girls in Northern Ireland are all calling for reform.

We ask you to hear us and to do the right thing. Champion reproductive freedom, women’s rights and healthcare. Give time for the Abortion Bill and commit to decriminalisation.

In hope,

  • Aisling Bea
  • Amanda Byram
  • Anita Asante
  • Baroness Helena Kennedy
  • Bella Freud
  • Bisha K Ali
  • Bridget Christie
  • Bronagh Gallagher
  • Bronagh Waugh
  • Caroline Quentin
  • Claudia Winkleman
  • Claire Foy
  • Dame Harriet Walter
  • Deborah Frances-White
  • Dawn O'Porter
  • Desiree Burch
  • Dolly Alderton
  • Edna O’ Brien
  • Eleanor Tomlinson
  • Elizabeth Uviebinené
  • Elizabeth Day
  • Ellen Jones
  • Emma Freud
  • Emma Thompson
  • Gemma Arterton
  • Gemma Cairney
  • Gemma Chan
  • Indira Varma
  • Joan Bakewell CBE
  • Jodie Whittaker
  • Juliet Stevenson
  • Kate Beckinsale
  • Kate Nash
  • Kathy Lette
  • Kristen Scott Thomas
  • Leomie Anderson
  • Lolita Chakrabarti
  • Lolly Adefope
  • Meera Syal
  • Miranda Richardson
  • Nathalie Emmanuel
  • Noma Dumezweni
  • Olivia Colman
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge
  • Rachel Parris
  • Rebecca Front
  • Rosie Jones
  • Saffron Burrows
  • Sara Pascoe
  • Sarah Dunant
  • Sarah Millican
  • Sarah Solemani
  • Scarlett Curtis
  • Shappi Khorsandi
  • Sharon Horgan
  • Sindhu Vee
  • Sita Brahmachari
  • Sophie Okonedo
  • Sue Perkins
  • Susan Wokoma
  • Tracey Emin
  • Vanessa Redgrave
  • Vicky Featherstone
  • Victoria Hamilton
  • Dame Vivienne Westwood
  • Yomi Adegoke
  • Zoe Wanamaker
  • and Amnesty International