The Labour MP Stella Creasy has said she will table an amendment to the forthcoming British bill of rights to give women the fundamental right to an abortion.
Creasy said she would expect MPs to be given a free vote on the issue, as a matter of conscience. She told the Guardian the amendment would be tabled when the bill is published at second reading.
“Most women in the UK do not realise abortion is not a right but there is only a law giving exemption from prosecution in certain circumstances,” she said. “What the US teaches us is that we cannot be complacent about entrenching those rights in law.”
In a complex legal situation, only women in Northern Ireland have the guaranteed right to an abortion, after an amendment backed by MPs at Westminster in 2019 to the NI executive formation bill.
Despite that, abortions in Northern Ireland remain difficult to access. The UK government has put in place a legal framework for the services but so far they remain restricted due to an impasse at Stormont.
In England and Wales, the 1967 Abortion Act made terminations legal in Great Britain up to 24 weeks in most circumstances. But the law is framed in terms that mean abortion is not a right, but an exception when two doctors agree it would be risky for the mental or physical health of the woman. That phrasing has come under renewed scrutiny from campaigners.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the overturning of Roe v Wade by the supreme court, which had given US women the constitutional right to an abortion, Creasy said: “Roe versus Wade gave American women a constitutional right to have an abortion. Currently here in the UK, only women in Northern Ireland have their constitutional rights to an abortion protected as a human right.
“I ask the minister a direct and simple question – if an amendment is tabled to the forthcoming bill of rights by those of us who recognise this will be a conscience issue and so a free vote, to protect a woman’s right to choose for every single woman in the United Kingdom, will she join me in voting for it?”
Speaking for the government, the Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling said she would not “pre-empt” the legislation. “As we have discussed, this would be a matter of conscience,” she said.
The justice secretary, Dominic Raab, has published the new bill of Rights but the Commons is yet to debate it at second reading, expected in the coming weeks.