British Government says it won't intervene in Northern Ireland abortion laws

The Northern Ireland assembly has been suspended for the last two yearsWikipedia

Abortion laws in Northern Ireland must be decided on by the country's own lawmakers, a spokesman for the British Government has said. 

A protest yesterday called upon Westminster to intervene to relax abortion laws in Northern Ireland, where the procedure is prohibited in nearly all circumstances.

Pro-choice campaigners marched on Westminster with suitcases representing the estimated 28 women a week who travel to the rest of the UK for an abortion. 

They were challenged by a separate pro-life protest calling on Northern Ireland to maintain the status quo. 

Calls for the law to be changed in Northern Ireland have grown after a referendum in the Republic of Ireland led to its ban on abortion being overturned last year.

But a spokesman for the Government yesterday told a UN committee on discrimination against women that it was up to the assemblies of devolved nations to decide how they comply with international human rights obligations, The Times reports.

'The most critical thing to do is to restore the Northern Ireland executive so that they can make the decisions that affect the people in Northern Ireland,' he said.

The comments are likely to go down well with pro-life groups which have raised concerns that the UK might interfere with abortion laws in Northern Ireland while its assembly remains suspended. 

Following the defeat last year of Diana Johnson's Ten Minute Rule Bill that sought to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Theresa May said the issue was 'rightly a devolved matter which locally accountable politicians in Northern Ireland should have the opportunity to debate and consider'. 

According to research, two thirds of women in Northern Ireland believe that legislative decisions on abortion should be made by its own assembly.

Both Lives Matter, which organised the counter protest in Westminster on Tuesday, said the decision should remain with Northern Ireland. 

The campaign group's co-founder Dawn McAvoy said: 'We urge the British Government to respect the people of Northern Ireland and our elected representatives.

'If what is proposed by abortion pressure group was to actually happen, it would have dramatic consequences for Northern Ireland.

'Polling shows the majority voice of the Northern Irish people support decisions on abortion law happening in Northern Ireland, not Westminster.

'This is a reminder to the government in Westminster that abortion remains a devolved issue in Northern Ireland and laws and policy should be decided by a devolved government.'

Fiona Bruce MP supported the protest, saying: 'Abortion pressure groups are trying to undermine devolution and impose change to abortion law from Northern Ireland. This is bad for devolution everywhere and contrary to Government policy.

'These extreme proposals are out of touch with the will of the Northern Irish people, and in particular women. It is clear that a strong majority of Northern Irish women reject interference from Westminster and believe that this is a decision for Northern Ireland.

'I urge the Government to listen to the majority of women in Northern Ireland and reject any pressure to impose abortion on Northern Ireland.'