With the free vote having been passed in the House of Commons by a majority of 253 to 136 votes, the Government was required to lay down regulations to specify the detail as to how the abortion rules would work in practice. These regulations had to be set out in time for the end of March and were subject to a bill committee and a vote in the House of Commons. This vote was triggered by those opposed to the liberalisation in Northern Ireland and two arguments were used to advance rejection.
The first was that the Northern Ireland assembly and executive were now sitting so could make their own devolved decisions. I disagree with this argument because the regulations were to give effect to a vote made by the House of Commons from last year. This vote gave the Northern Ireland bodies a deadline to return to devolved Government. This deadline was not meant meaning that the regulations had to be laid. In addition, those arguing for the matter to be devolved are missing the point that the Supreme Court, when finding that the position in Northern Ireland was contrary to the UK’s treaty obligations, made it clear that Parliament, as the body responsible for our treaty obligations, needed to change the law and not the devolved assembly in Northern Ireland.
The second argument against the regulations was that they went further than the abortion rules across the rest of the UK. This is a fair point, as regards abortion on demand up to 24 weeks and for abortion for foetal abnormality beyond the overall limit of 28 weeks in the rest of the UK. The court ruling required Parliament to legislate in this manner and a legal opinion makes this clear. Had those in power Northern Ireland recognised that their abortion provisions was totally out of step with the rest of the UK and our treaty obligations, and not caused this matter to go all the way through the courts, the far reaching verdict would not have caused such extensive change. It is now the case that the abortion provision in Northern Ireland is now more liberal, in these two regards, than the remainder of the UK. It is likely that the UK will end up levelling up to the new regime in Northern Ireland.
You can view my contribution in the debate from June 2020 here. The regulations were passed by a vote of 355 to 77. This was another free vote. When taken with the free vote in November 2020 to trigger the process of change, I believe it shows an overwhelming view of this matter.