We write on behalf of those who use, provide and campaign for abortion care provision to call on you to legislate for full abortion access in Northern Ireland without further delay.
50 years after the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act, women* living in Northern Ireland are still being forced through pregnancies against their will.
At least 724 women travelled to England in 2016 to access abortion care denied to them in Northern Ireland. Countless others risked criminal sanctions by accessing medication online as women in the region are still being governed by an abortion law that predates the lightbulb.
Devolution is no justification for the denial of rights to citizens in Northern Ireland, and the ongoing absence of devolved government reinforces the urgency for action. Commitment to human rights must not be selective, and the need for change cannot be ignored.
A recent report published by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that the UK is responsible for ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ violations of women’s rights in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion.
In 2016 a woman was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, for self-inducing an abortion because she could not afford the cost of travel to England and the expense of a private procedure. In 2017 a man and women accepted formal cautions for the same offences and a woman being prosecuted for purchasing abortion pills for her 15-year-old daughter is currently awaiting trial.
These prosecutions are having a much wider effect, in that those who do acquire online pills, are deterred from seeking medical or support services, which compound the risk to their health.
Enabling women from Northern Ireland to access free abortion services in England is an important step to help women forced to travel. However, it is no substitute for comprehensive reform of Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion law and on International Women’s Day we remind you that many women remain left behind.
This includes victims of domestic violence, refugees, women without confirmed immigration status who are unable to travel, those who are too young to travel alone and those with complex health needs.
We, the undersigned trust women to make decisions about their bodies. We call on you to act to ensure that our laws promote and protect the rights of women.
*We recognise that not all pregnant people are women and that trans men and non-binary people can get pregnant too. This letter refers to pregnant people of all genders.
CONTACT - EMMA CAMPBELL 07894063965 DANIELLE ROBERTS 07739259085