The most recent vote in the House of Commons, which was followed by an outcry from some members of the public and political establishment, shows how abortion rights activists must keep the pressure on the political establishment.
To this day, Northern Ireland is among a number of countries in the world without abortion rights, including Egypt, Iraq, and Malta. Worryingly, abortion rights are being eroded in a number of countries, including the United States with the recent signing, in Alabama, of the Human Life Protection Act which defines a foetus as ‘persons’ that isn’t that far away from the 8th amendment.
Currently, pregnant people seeking abortion in Northern Ireland still have to travel or procure safe, but illegal, abortion pills through services like Women on Web and Women Help Women. The number of Northern Irish people seeking abortions in England and Wales has increased by 22% which illustrates the urgent need for abortion to be legalised in the North. If they are not in a position to travel then their only option is to obtain abortion pills online and risk prosecution and punishment. This risk became reality for a mother who was prosecuted for providing abortion pills to her 15-year old daughter in 2013 – with a trial scheduled in November of this year.
But it seems that now the outcome of this trial is unknown, following the most recent vote in the House of Commons. Just two and half years after the collapse of Stormont, if power sharing is not restored by October 21st, Northern Ireland could finally have both abortion rights and marriage equality. This is the result of tireless work by abortion rights activists and LGBTQ+ activists who put enough pressure on establishment politicians from both unionist and nationalist parties to put these important issues on the table.
It can seem that change is inevitable, but it is necessary to realise that the work is not finished. Abortion right activists must keep the pressure on politicians that call themselves pro-choice. This means that the abortion rights movement in Northern Ireland must be a cross-community movement that doesn’t give in to sectarian pressure. Abortion and marriage equality are cross-community issues. It has been shown time and time again that public opinion is ahead of the positions of mainstream parties, a poll by Amnesty International in 2018 shows that 65% of the public in Northern Ireland believes that abortion shouldn’t be a crime, 67% of DUP voters also agreed that abortion shouldn’t be a crime and 78% of Labour voters think that the UK government should act to the change the law.
With it just being over a year since the repeal of the 8th amendment, it is important to remember that the battle for abortion rights is not over. We won twelve weeks on request, but this right can be taken away by the political establishment. Even if power-sharing is restored by October, the issue of abortion isn’t going away anytime soon. Abortion rights activists in Northern Ireland will continue to push for the decriminalisation of abortion and public opinion towards the legalisation of abortion will only continue to grow. It is important to keep fighting on this issue, to make sure that the abortion laws in Northern Ireland offer real choice for all in Northern Ireland, not just in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality.
Photo courtesy of Rally for Choice via Facebook
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