Or: It’s 2019; how are we still talking about this?
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. It’s illegal in Northern Ireland to get an abortion, and yet is legal in the rest of the UK. It is now, of course, legal in the Republic of Ireland as well, after the incredible Repeal the 8th Campaign was successful in May 2018. Political power over healthcare is devolved to Northern Ireland (rather than sitting at Westminster), and there is a long and complex history around this. Northern Ireland is also a traditionally religious country, with census data from 2011 showing that over 92% of the population were raised and/or are still believer in a particular religion (42.8% Roman Catholic, 21.1% Presbyterian Church, Church of Ireland 16.7%, Methodist Church 5.0%. Other Christian churches 5.8%, 7.9% no religion or did not state a religion, non-Christian religions were 0.8%.) That’s an extremely brief, and not at all meant to even scratch the surface, summary of some of the reasons why abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland.
Note: I use the word “woman” in this article when discussing abortion rights, as it is predominately cisgender women who are in need of access to them. This blog recognises and supports all those who are in need of access to abortion services, such as trans-men and non-binary individuals. The right to choose should be available to all.
As it turns out, most people in 2019 think it should be up to a woman, if she does one of the single most, whole-life, transformative, and mortally dangerous things possible to do with her body.Jessica Fosteqew as quoted from ‘The Guilty Feminist; Episode 139’
Now, I could make this article very long: about the ins and outs surrounding the abortion debate, why it should be legal, and whatever. But I don’t think we need to talk about that anymore. I am pro-choice, and if you disagree with me, me writing about wanting women to have access to basic healthcare because x, y, and z is unlikely to change your mind. No, instead, this article is about information, and the fact that there are 923,540 women (51% of the population) living in Northern Ireland who do not have access to the same healthcare rights as women living less than thirty miles away (the shortest distance from Scotland to Northern Ireland by sea).
A lot of people don’t know that abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland; I didn’t until very recently. I just assumed that because it was part of the UK, and abortion is legal in the UK with a doctor’s supervision, that the same must apply in Northern Ireland. More fool me. To get an abortion in Northern Ireland could result in a life sentence if caught and found guilty.
As a result, 28 women a week travel to the UK to access abortion. These are the ones who can afford it, can leave their families, and take time away from their lives in order to make the trip. This is not available to everyone in need of this care.
Quoted above, Episode 139 of the amazing podcast ‘The Guilty Feminist’ deals with some of the aspects of the issue, the main one of which appears to be information. So many people (myself included) did not, or do not, realise that this is still a thing. Change comes from people hearing about it, and raising their voices, because to prevent a woman’s right to choose is just plain wrong. The more people know about this, the more it can be shared on social media, and this injustice can be rectified. The Repeal the 8th movement gained an awful lot of it’s traction and support because of social media, and the powerful ability to connect Irish women all over the world, many of whom flew home in order to be able to vote. Information is powerful; let’s do the same for Northern Ireland.
[There is, amongst justices] firm and clear opinion that the current law is incompatible [with the European Convention of Human Rights]Justice Brenda M. Hale as quoted in the New York Times
This was first said in 2015, and is based on the fact that there is no provision in Northern Irish law for pregnancies that are not viable due to fatal foetal abnormalities, or where the pregnancy is a result of rape and/or incest. A case was brought in 2018 where this incompatibility was again ratified, but the claimant of the case “did not have the standing” in order for the court to make an official decision. What was said, however, was that when a claimant came forward “with the necessary standing”, the case would be likely to succeed.
A petition bearing 64,000+ signatures was delivered to the office of Karen Bradley, the Westminster secretary for Northern Ireland. Westminster could step in here; human rights, unlike healthcare, are not a devolved issue, so they do have the power to make meaningful change. Use the social media hashtags: #nowforNI #thenorthisnext and #abortionisnotacrime to help spread the message.