U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May openly expressed support for abortion rights for the first time.
“I believe that a woman should be able to access safe, legal abortion,” May told reporters Thursday night, en route to the G7 meeting in Canada, according to a transcript. Her remarks come amid a push within her own Conservative Party to allow abortion in Northern Ireland, following a landslide vote in Ireland to overturn the Republics ban. Northern Irelands Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mays government, staunchly opposes such a move.
However, May stressed that the decision should be left up to Northern Irish lawmakers.
“My preferred option is for it to be dealt with and addressed by those people who are elected politicians in — and elected as — accountable politicians in Northern Ireland,” she said.
While abortion is available in the rest of the U.K., Northern Ireland is exempt from the 1967 law allowing the procedure. May said the matter should be left in the hands of Northern Irelands devolved legislative assembly, although negotiations to form a power-sharing government there have been deadlocked for more than a year.
The House of Commons debated a proposal on Tuesday to repeal Northern Irish laws that make procuring abortion a crime before 24 weeks of pregnancy. May called the testimony “very moving.”
Because abortion is a “conscience issue,” May said Tories would not be subject to pressure from the party to vote in a particular way. The question “always and will continue to be treated as a free vote,” she said.