Harman looks set to block tomorrow’s abortion votes.

// 21 October 2008

The Guardian reports that Harriet Harman is planning to block any vote on amendments to the Abortion Act in Parliament tomorrow by invoking a procedural motion to decide the order in which MPs debate the HFE bill. This would place the proposed amendments – both pro- and anti- choice – at the bottom of the list, meaning they are unlikely to be aired in time to be voted on. The motion would most likely be passed, as it would be subject to a strong three-line whip. This could result in not only the shelving of potential plans to extend the Act to Northern Ireland, but also those to remove the two doctor rule and allow nurses to carry out early abortions.

Harman justifies her move with the threat that, should MPs liberalise the abortion laws, the House of Lords could overturn other existing elements of the 1967Abortion Act, such as the allowance for abortion of severely handicapped foetuses after 24 weeks. This, as Polly Toynbee points out, is complete bollocks: the Lords have repeatedly voted in favour of the pro-choice position and support the Act as it currently stands.

It looks like Harman’s real motivations are indeed linked to NI politics:

…there was speculation last night that the government was acting to please the main political parties in Northern Ireland who are united in supporting the ban on abortions in the province. Some members of the Democratic Unionist party said its nine MPs voted in favour of the government’s plan to detain terror suspects without charge for 42 days in June after ministers assured Northern Ireland’s parties that the abortion ban would be retained.

The government wrote to all Northern Ireland parties saying that the HFE bill would be the wrong vehicle to change the law in Northern Ireland. [Evan] Harris [MP] said: “If that is right, then that is disgraceful.”

If Harman goes ahead with her plan, it will be a huge kick in the teeth for every woman in the country, particularly those from NI, and from no less than the Minister for Women herself. I’m speechless with disgust.

Comments From You

Claire McCann // Posted 21 October 2008 at 3:51 pm

It is very frustrating that this fundamental issue is falling foul of political manoeuvrings!

It is too important an issue to be politicked out of existence. I hope that MPs will get the chance to vote and that all those pro-choice MPs will stand up be counted when it comes to voting for the extension of the Act to NI.

Jess // Posted 21 October 2008 at 4:04 pm

Oh, Harriet :-/

This is really unfortunate. Why was it OK to have to fight the anti-choice amendments tooth and nail, but it’s too much of a risk to push for liberalisation?

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 21 October 2008 at 7:42 pm

Proves yet again that men are the ones holding power over women. Harman obviously believed it was more than ‘my job’s worth to oppose Brown’s deal with N.Ireland politicians.’

It also shows that Brown and his ‘boys’ do not have the slightest interest in women’s right of ownership of their bodies. After all terrorism and supporting male-dominant banking systems are far more important than ordinary women’s lives and rights. Especially Northern Ireland women’s continued denial of their human rights.

Siún // Posted 21 October 2008 at 7:58 pm

The shamelessness of this skulduggery is breathtaking. The government clearly don’t think anyone worth worrying about is paying attention. I hope we can show them how important these issues are to people in NI and across the UK.

sianmarie // Posted 22 October 2008 at 12:59 pm

right. and our democracy? where does this stand? surely the point of the house of commons is to havethese debates, on behalf of their voters, so that all laws that are passed are repesentative.

what is harriet thinking?

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