UK Government set to be held to account over Northern Ireland abortion and same-sex marriage law

31 October, 2018

All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Treasurer Alf Dubs speaking in the House of Lords during yesterday’s debate.

The UK Government is now to be held to account by the UK Parliament over the abortion and same-sex marriage laws in Northern Ireland and the human rights breaches those laws cause, after a new Bill was passed in the House of Lords last night. The Bill is a move that gives renewed hope to women and LGBT people and has been welcomed by Humanists UK.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill will require the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to provide guidance to Northern Ireland civil servants and senior officials on abortion and marriage law and wider human rights, and report back to the House of Commons regularly with updates. Humanists UK, which briefed MPs and peers in support of this clause of the Bill, welcomed this outcome, and will continue campaigning to extend these rights equally across the UK.

The Bill passed through the House of Lords late last night after amendment by Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn which places an obligation on the UK Government to review Northern Irish abortion and same-sex marriage law in the light of recent, current and future human rights rulings in the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been dissolved for over 18 months.

This clause of the Bill was fiercely debated and defended by peers, but ultimately passed unchanged. All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group members Lord Dubs and Lord Cashman were amongst those who spoke in favour of it. While the Bill will enable further scrutiny of abortion and same-sex marriage law in Northern Ireland, it will not otherwise cause a change in current law.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘‘This success brings us closer to extending abortion and same-sex marriage rights to the people of Northern Ireland. Given the absence of a functioning Assembly, it is right that our failing abortion and same-sex marriage laws will be scrutinised in Westminster. These issues impact the daily lives of many individuals and cannot be sidelined. We will continue campaigning for equal access to abortion rights and same-sex marriage across the UK.’

Abortion law in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe and the criminal sanctions imposed are amongst the harshest in the world, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. It is only legal in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. A Supreme Court judgment earlier this year said that for human rights reasons, abortion must become legal in the cases of rape or incest, or where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

Current restrictions force women to either travel to the UK to receive treatment, risk prosecution for procuring illegal online abortion pills, or continue their pregnancies against their wishes and in violation of their rights. There is no exception made for pregnancies that arise as a result of sexual crime or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 3675 0959, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on or on 02890 029946.

For more information about Humanists UK’s campaigning work on abortion, visit

Humanists UK recently intervened in a Northern ireland abortion case. Read more at

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.