United we stand- against abortion

Well, if the local parties can’t agree on much else, they’re united against abortion. Leading on this rare story of chiming unity, ( how right you are, my dear friend Gail) the Belfast Telegraph post-Troubles is reverting to a a comfortably conservative (complacent?) editorial line, homing in on commercially sensible consensus where it can find it. If I were a GB MP with my background, I would be very tempted to support Diane Abbott’s amendment. I strongly endorse a woman’s right to chose certainly up to 24 weeks, and believe that opinion north and south has yet to confront the issue seriously, preferring the emotional spasm and the pull of tradition on this as on so many subjects.This is Ms Abbott’s case:

“When it comes to abortion rights, Northern Ireland women are effectively second-class citizens,” she said.

“They don’t have the same rights as women in England and Wales and Scotland. They even have fewer rights than women in the Republic of Ireland.

“The main way if you want to have an abortion, you have to travel to the UK and get one privately.

“We think we have got a very good chance of getting the amendment through.

“There is a very clear majority in Parliament for a woman’s right to choose and we believe there is a majority to extend that to Northern Ireland.”

Essentially though, she’s bluffing. She and other left-wing MPs obviously ambushed the basically unbriefed Today programme with a political flanker designed to embarrass Gordon Brown over the alleged 42 days deal. As the Bel Tel rightly points out, the amendment is most unlikely to be reached when the Bill returns to the Commons in the autumn.

That doesn’t detract from the case itself though. It’s a perfect example of how conditional unionism is. As Diane grandly said in a quote not carried by the Telegraph: “This is not a delegated matter. The British Parliament has a right to legislate”.

A vote in favour would be a sharp reminder that the Assembly is subordinate and the will of the Northern Ireland people is not sovereign. Tempting.

I might be persuaded to reserve my vote, if guidelines were issued that allowed doctors and the Family Planning Association openly to help women obtain the right help outside our oh-so-virtuous little isle.

But what chance is there of that?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London