The last significant opportunity to secure abortion law reform for NI through Westminster was in 2008 through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which could have secured the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to NI. The political context of the day saw the opportunity bartered away over the support of Gordon Brown’s attempt to detain ‘terror suspects’ for 42 days. Women in Northern Ireland are too used to their fundamental rights being neglected and stolen ‘for the good of the Peace Process’ Northern Ireland continually fails to meet international human rights standards in relation to access to abortion services and the international community has been highly critical of the refusal of the UK Government to amend abortion law in Northern Ireland. Devolution means abortion is viewed as a health matter in the rest of GB but a criminal justice matter in NI.
Women in NI are having abortions – at least 80,000 since 1968. Unlike those countless others that resort to unlicensed medication from online sources, women with the means, have to travel to England and other European countries to access safe and legal abortion services. These women no longer have to pay privately for a service that is available on the NHS, however if you have medical complications, in a coercive relationship, have insecure immigration status, or don’t have travel documents; you will be unable to travel.
When Labour MP Stella Creasy tabled an amendment to the Queens Speech to ensure NI women travelling to England for abortions could have their treatment funded, this was a welcome development. This political win was built on the years of lobbying and awareness raising that Alliance for Choice has been undertaking, something which Stella Creasy herself acknowledged on a recent visit to Belfast to mark the fact that after 50 years women in NI still don’t have access to abortion.
The outcome of a hung parliament in the recent Westminster election has been surprising, now the Tory govt. is being propped up by 10 MP’s from the DUP. We have and will continue to highlight to the rest of the UK just how archaic their policies are; blocking equal marriage and abortion law reform at every opportunity through the use of the ‘petition of concern’ voting mechanism in the NI Assembly.
The lack of a working Assembly in Northern Ireland means that we are likely to be entering a period of direct rule from Westminster which could present an ideal opportunity to lobby for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland, for at least that equal to the rest of the UK. Now that abortion in NI is firmly on the radar of the opposition parties, we will be working hard to ensure they take action on it. The Labour Party Conference attendance proved to be a fortuitous move. We had 100% support from delegates and many of the higher profile attendees made a particular effort to visit our stall.
Alliance for Choice & the case for decriminalisation
Alliance for Choice campaigns for free, safe and legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland. We do not campaign for extension of the 1967 Act, but for our own legislation to be implemented in NI. The 1967 Abortion Act does not decriminalise abortion and there have been a number of attempts by the Labour Party to change this for England and Wales as a consensus is beginning to form that the Act is not fit-for-purpose and that abortion must be fully decriminalised in order to afford people real bodily autonomy and choice.
We believe that abortion should be exclusively a healthcare matter between a pregnant person and a medical professional. It should not be a criminal justice matter, in accordance with current Human Rights standards.
The use of tele-medicine abortion pills has been highlighted in NI over the last few years due to multiple legal proceedings against people using abortion pills obtained from the internet. Alliance for Choice would direct anyone considering this pathway to Women on Web (www.womenonweb.org) and Women Help Women (www.womenhelp.org) which offer reputable, online medical abortion services with online or phone consultations with licensed medical doctors.
The pills that people access through Women on Web and Women Help Women are the exact same medications someone would be given to induce a legal medical abortion in NI. These tablets are on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines. Research has shown that medical abortion, when carried out correctly, is statistically much safer than continuing with a pregnancy/eventual labour (Grimes 2005, WHO Mortality Database 2001).
Amongst the delegates there was a will to see change in Northern Ireland, at the very least up to the current standard of legislation in England and Wales. Many people asked how to support us and were happy to sport an Alliance for Choice badge or bag. Many were shocked to learn of the criminal cases already brought and awaiting trial. Indeed this is an extreme way to treat women and girls in need of healthcare.
We hope that the hundreds of people who signed up to our newsletter will continue to back the call for free, safe and legal abortion in Northern Ireland, especially if, as was mooted by Jeremy Corbyn in his closing speech, the Labour Party seize power in Westminster.
What can you do as part of the Labour Party?
Uphold your manifesto pledge: “Labour will continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will work with the Assembly to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland.”
Recognise the role of Westminster as the State Party responsible for the human rights of women and girls in all jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland, regardless of devolution
Push for implementation of the recommendations of the CEDAW committee to remove the weight of criminal sanctions on women and girls who, unable to travel, may resort to DIY abortion methods in NI
Sign up to our newsletter to keep on top of the work of Alliance for Choice at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donate to Alliance for Choice at localgiving.org/charity/alliance4choice
 The 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to NI and there is no provision in Northern Ireland for abortions to be legally carried out on grounds of rape, incest and foetal abnormality. Abortion IS legal in NI, but the circumstances are extremely restrictive as we rely on the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act with a few rare exceptions further complicated by a lack of official guidelines.