here’s how you can support abortion reform in northern ireland
Abortion is still illegal for Northern Irish women, despite being available in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. A new bill launched in Parliament could change that.
Image via BPAS.
Despite the historic decision to lift the Republic of Ireland’s ban on abortion earlier this year, women in Northern Ireland still currently face jail time for terminating their pregnancies.
Northern Ireland currently exists in limbo when it comes to abortion law -- Stormont, the local government, is currently collapsed, while Parliament maintains that abortion reform is a devolved issue and therefore cannot be legislated on from London. Now though, a new bill launched in Westminster could be set to change that.
An historic bill, launched by Diana Johnson and a coalition of MPs across five political parties, seeks to decriminalise abortion by repealing sections of the Offences Against the Person Act, the law which is currently used to ban abortion in Northern Ireland. The bill, which will be debated in Parliament next week (23 October), is similar in structure to the repeal of the 8th Amendment, which granted abortion reform in the Republic of Ireland back in May, and was set in motion when a group of Northern Irish women appealed to Westminster to bypass Northern Ireland’s local government.
To coincide with the bill, the We Trust Women campaign, which advocates for abortion rights, has created a form to allow people from across the UK to contact their local MPs and demand they support the bill ahead of next week’s debate.
In support, women in Northern Ireland who have been directly affected by the state’s draconian abortion laws have publicly spoken about their experiences and specifically called on Westminster to intervene. “I feel, especially now with the changes that have happened in the Republic, it is really important for Westminster to change the law on behalf of the women of Northern Ireland,” says Emma, from Belfast. “In my eyes I don’t think it is a devolved issue. People are directly affected by this every single day, and I’m one of those people.”
Emma, 18, features in a short film released by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). She was 20 weeks pregnant when she discovered her baby had anencephaly, a condition where the skull does not form properly, and would not survive. While NI women have been able to access funded care in England since June 2017, there are women who are unable to travel due to caring responsibilities or the need to maintain their confidentiality. Emma says she couldn’t travel for abortion care because she needed the support system of her family around her at an incredibly distressing time in her life.
“I was given the option to travel to England for an abortion, but I didn’t want to do that. I want to be with the support of my family, in a place that I’m familiar,” she explains.
Others in the video spoke of the practical difficulties of travelling during what can be a traumatic procedure, with one woman from Belfast describing how she waited for three hours in an airport for her flight while still bleeding.
Emma Campbell, a spokesperson for Northern Irish abortion rights organisation Alliance for Choice says that the harrowing stories should be the trigger Westminster needs to act.
“Beyond these brave women who have spoken out about their experiences, there are tens of thousands of people who have travelled for abortion care and thousands more who risked prosecution at home because they couldn't,” she says. “They should be the only testimony Westminster needs to show that Northern Ireland needs abortion decriminalised now. All we ask is that it is regulated like any other reproductive healthcare and be available in the country we reside in. Our human rights, our dignity and our safety depend on it. We should not have to wait any longer.”
You can contact your MP here to support the bill.