Diana Johnson’s bill to decriminalise abortion in England, Wales and the north passed its first reading in Westminster today by 208 votes to 123.
Supporters of the Ten Minute Rule Bill included 5 Government Ministers among them Penny Mordaunt Minister of Women and Equalities. It now moves to the next stage in November.
Perhaps more crucially however it comes ahead of the second reading of Karen Bradley’s Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions Bill on Wednesday.
An amendment is being proposed to that Bill by nearly 80 cross-party MPs that would require “the Secretary of State to issue guidance to NI civil servants on how to exercise their functions in relation to abortion and also equal marriage.”
It also “asks that the Secretary of State sets out plans to address the impact of the absence of NI Ministers on human rights obligations.”
With the votes on this legislation taking place at the same time as the divide deepens within the Tory party it may lead, even if a whip is applied, to more Conservative MPs backing the proposal in the absence of a Stormont Assembly.
If the amendment is accepted and passed then the Secretary of State would be left to take forward a Bill that the Westminster government’s confidence and supply partners – the DUP – would be fairly uncomfortable with to say the least.