The Yorkshire Post says: Theresa May must ensure women's rights come first in abortion debate

THE resounding referendum vote in favour of liberalising abortion laws by the people of Ireland now inevitably places the focus on legislation in Northern Ireland and puts pressure on Theresa May to address the issue.

Theresa May is in a difficult position over abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

The province is out of step with the rest of the United Kingdom in the restrictions it places on women seeking abortions.

That has produced the anomaly in which they travel to England to legally access treatment denied them at home, or procure drugs over the internet to bring about terminations, which is potentially dangerous.

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This is an inconsistency that cannot realistically continue, and though Mrs May is resisting pressure from within her own party- notably from senior female colleagues – to allow a free vote on reforming the laws in Northern Ireland, the referendum result points strongly towards a growing consensus for steps to be taken.

The Prime Minister finds herself in an awkward position. She is reliant upon the socially-conservative Democratic Unionist Party for support in Parliament, and it is implacably opposed to any liberalisation of abortion.

Yet this is an issue far too important to be influenced by political deal-making. It is a fundamental matter of women’s rights, and their safety, and those considerations must be paramount.

The Irish vote demonstrated a clear mood for change in what was hitherto one of the most conservative countries in the world on abortion. There is every reason to suppose that a similar change of heart would be apparent if the people of Northern Ireland were asked to express their view in a referendum.

But on this issue, there is no need for such a poll. It is in the Government’s hands to allow a free vote on bringing the province’s laws into line with the rest of the UK and it should do so.