the uk’s abortion laws are no better than alabama

Amnesty International UK today condemned Alabama’s “horrifying” new abortion regulations, but reminded people to look a little closer to home, where women in Northern Ireland can face life in prison for terminating their pregnancies.

by Roisin Lanigan
15 May 2019, 3:17pm

Photography Donal Talbot

The eyes of the world are on Alabama today, lamenting the state’s return to the Dark Ages with a series of Draconian new legislations which make abortion illegal. Alabama’s Supreme Court voted on a near-total ban on abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. The shocking step back for reproductive rights has led to many people comparing the state to Gilead, Margaret Attwood’s fictional setting for The Handmaid’s Tale. But while the public outrage is justified, it conveniently overlooks the fact that the UK has similarly conservative laws.

While the abortion ban in Alabama is undoubtedly “horrifying”, today Amnesty International UK reminded those disgusted at the decision that the United Kingdom’s abortion laws are “no better”. In Northern Ireland a similar near-total abortion ban is in place, with women forced to travel to England or to the Republic to secure a termination. For those without the means to travel, risking an illegal abortion at home in the North is a crime punishable by life inprisonment. It’s a situation that, despite violating international human rights laws, has had comparatively little attention in British media since the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal their constitution’s 8th Amendment, which prohibited abortion, in May last year.

“The UK Government’s silence on the situation in Northern Ireland is putting the UK in the same camp as those US states pushing women’s reproductive health into the dark ages,” Grainne Teggart, Amnesty UK’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said today. In a statement the campaigner reminded those posting in solidarity with Alabama women that, while disgusting, similar oppression happens closer to home. “It’s devastating news that Alabama has become the latest in a string of US states to enact a horrifying abortion ban. The roll-back on reproductive rights in the US is happening at a terrifyingly rapid rate,” she said.

“We should be outraged by this, but let’s also remember that in the UK we’re no better – women in Northern Ireland are subjected to one of the most severe abortion bans in the world which also carries criminal penalties of up to life imprisonment. It’s shameful that our Government is allowing such a violation of reproductive rights to continue to blight the lives of so many.

“The UK Government’s silence on the situation in Northern Ireland is putting the UK in the same camp as those US states pushing women’s reproductive health back into the dark ages. We should be leading on this issue, not lagging behind. We call on the Government to stop ignoring the cruel reality of our law and urgently legislate for change so that the harm caused is brought to an end.”

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has also called for a focus on Northern Irish abortion rights following today’s decision in Alabama. “Alabama’s abortion law is utterly appalling,” the non-profit organisation said on Twitter. “But remember — women in Northern Ireland still have no access to legal abortion care in their own country. We cannot condemn Alabama while women in the UK continue to be denied access.”

Rather than venting on social media, BPAS are urging British people who care about fair abortion access to instead channel their rage into something productive and email their MP to demand change closer to home. It’s easy to feel powerless at today’s news from America but before we condemn the US, it’s important to remember that our own system is far from perfect.

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