May Says Northern Irish Women Should Have Access to Abortions

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May said every British woman should have access to a “safe, legal abortion,” setting up a potential showdown with her Northern Ireland allies who oppose bringing the province’s strict rules against terminations in line with the rest of the U.K.

Women in Northern Ireland are only permitted to terminate their pregnancy when their life is in danger or there’s a serious risk to their mental or physical health. In 2016, more than 700 women traveled from the province to England and Wales to get an abortion.

The issue presents a political dilemma for May, as her minority Westminster government relies on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party for votes to see its key Brexit legislation through Parliament. The DUP has campaigned against extending abortion rights, while leader Arlene Foster has insisted the matter is for Northern Irish legislators to examine.

Abortion Debate Could Destabilize May’s Fragile Commons Majority

The problem is that Northern Ireland has been without a government since January 2017, after a power-sharing deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein collapsed. In London, pressure has been growing for May to intervene.

“My preferred option is for it to be dealt with and addressed by those people who are elected politicians in and elected as accountable politicians in Northern Ireland,” May told reporters traveling to Canada for the G-7 leaders’ meeting.

She appeared to suggest, however, that if an opposition party lawmaker brought a vote to the House of Commons, she wouldn’t stand in their way and would allow a “free vote’’ -- meaning lawmakers can vote with their conscience and not on party lines.

On Thursday, the U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled on a technicality that it had no right to decide whether the province’s strict policy breached European human-rights laws. However, a majority of the seven judges agreed that the law breached the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality.

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