“The question is, why haven’t we got further?"
British women and equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt, has called for changes to Northern Ireland’s “appalling” abortion laws a day after the two Conservative leadership rivals ruled out reform on the issue.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were accused of pandering to religious fundamentalists in the Democratic Unionist party by claiming that abortion rights were a matter for the devolved assembly if power-sharing was restored.
Mordaunt, who is also the defence secretary, indicated Westminster could intervene if the High Court in Belfast upheld a challenge to the law.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “I think paucity of care that women have endured in Northern Ireland is the most appalling thing and it must change.”
She predicted the government would have to intervene soon; a court is expected to rule imminently that Northern Ireland’s ban on abortion is incompatible with human rights rules.
Sarah Ewart, a Northern Irish woman who was forced to travel to England for a termination of her pregnancy and has legally challenged the abortion ban, welcomed Mordaunt’s intervention.
Backed by Amnesty International, Ewart said she was encouraged by Mordaunt’s intervention in the debate.
She said: “We shouldn’t have to fight through the courts to have our rights realised. Experiencing something as painful as I did and then having no option but to go through the ordeal of the courts is emotionally draining. Northern Ireland’s archaic abortion laws have left women like me suffering for far too long.
“We met with Mordaunt previously to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland and welcome her comments. We hope the government listens to women like me who have called on Westminster to legislate. We will keep fighting, alongside Amnesty, until change happens.”
In 2013 Ewart was told that her unborn child had anencephaly and had no skull. But under the law in Northern Ireland abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities are still illegal. Rape and incest victims made pregnant through sexual violence in Northern Ireland are also not allowed to have abortions in local hospitals.