Photographer: Jacobia Dahm/Bloomberg
politics

May Insists Abortion Issue Is for Northern Ireland to Decide

  • Pressure follows Irish referendum decision to liberalize laws
  • Northern Ireland’s assembly has been suspended for 16 months

Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated that Northern Ireland’s policy on abortion can only be set by its currently suspended devolved administration, rejecting calls for her to intervene in the province following the referendum decision to liberalize abortion laws south of the border.

“It’s important to recognize that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to their own process which is run by locally elected politicians,” May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London on Tuesday. “We are of the view that this is a devolved matter.”

Ireland voted overwhelmingly to ease some of Western Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws last week. Since then, pressure has mounted on May to step in to grant extra abortion rights in Northern Ireland, where termination of a pregnancy is only permitted when a woman’s life is in danger or she runs a serious risk to her mental or physical health.

Once Ireland passes a new law on the issue, Northern Ireland will be the only part of the British isles with such a restrictive abortion policy.

The issue poses a dilemma for May, a self-declared feminist who set up Women2Win to help female Conservative candidates. If she moves to change the law in Northern Ireland, she risks alienating the Democratic Unionist Party whose votes she needs to get her agenda through Parliament.

‘Hope’

After the Irish referendum, Penny Mordaunt, the minister responsible for women and equality in May’s government, tweeted it was a “hopeful” day for Northern Ireland and that the “hope must be met.” Nicky Morgan, Amber Rudd, Justine Greening and Maria Miller, all former holders of the brief, back her view that the law should change in the province, the Sunday Times said.

A further complication is the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to strike a power-sharing agreement since the devolved assembly was suspended in January last year. The Northern Ireland administration has been run by civil servants for the past 16 months, with no sign that the power-sharing executive will be restored any time soon.

“Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland, so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent,” Slack said.

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