Following this letter, Alliance for Choice and our co-campaigners write;
We welcome on behalf of those who use, provide and campaign for abortion provision, the letter signed by parliamentarians from across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain yesterday. We are pleased to see that this important issue remains firmly on the political agenda and that the bodies of more than half the people of Northern Ireland will not remain relegated to the laws of the 1800’s. Given the ongoing political crisis at Stormont, and the lack of cooperation between British and Irish politicians over Brexit, it’s even more important that our representatives continue to work together.
The recent figures detailing the uptake of abortion services provided for NI women and pregnant people in England, highlights the urgent needs of those who would have previously had little option but to order illegal pills online or be forced to continue with a pregnancy that is unsupportable. However, we cannot forget that overseas travel will never be possible for many including those with complex health needs, unmet childcare needs, asylum seekers, those in coercive and violent relationships, those in precarious or zero hours employment and more.
The judgement from the Supreme Court last month coupled with the findings of CEDAW that the UK is responsible for ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ violations of women’s rights in Northern Ireland, should have been enough for Westminster to act. We hope that this letter highlights for the Intergovernmental Conference that we need abortion services to be local, accessible and compliant with our Human Rights obligations as a bare minimum. By unduly restricting their access to abortion in their own country, the current government is actively participating in women’s oppression.
We are also buoyed by the evidence this letter brings of cross party and cross institutional support to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offenses Against the Persons Act and would echo it’s call for a timetable to be confirmed for the tabling of the Domestic Abuse Bill as a matter of urgency.
Katherine O’Brien, Head of Media and Policy Research said:
“Over the last 3 months, 324 women from Northern Ireland have travelled to England for abortion care, including one young girl who was just 12 years old. The U.K. government cannot continue to absolve itself of its responsibility to UK citizens in Northern Ireland. This is an issue of healthcare and of human rights. We urge Theresa May to allow Westminster to repeal the 150 year old legislation that criminalises women who end their own pregnancies to enable Northern Ireland to create an abortion framework that is fit for the twenty first century.”
Caitlin De Jode from London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said:
“For too long, the women of Northern Ireland have been let down and left behind - by politicians on all sides. We call on the UK government to set out a clear timetable for the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland, and support women by affording them the access to healthcare that they would have if they lived elsewhere in the UK, or in the Republic of Ireland. It’s time to trust women.”
Emma Campbell, Co-Chair of Alliance for Choice said:
“We are horrified that children as young as 12 are still being forced to travel to access medical services. This is indicative of the callousness with which the DUP and others blocking change in the defunct NI Assembly continue to treat us. We have reached a point where the stance of those unwilling to change is not supported by their voters or by any health or human rights bodies. More importantly, the stigma it creates is recognised as harming the physical and mental wellbeing of abortion seekers and their families. ”
Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland Campaigns Manager for Amnesty UK said:
“There is now an unbreakable determination from parliamentarians across all parties to pressure Theresa May’s government to do what is right and reform abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
Silence on this issue is not an option. Cross-party pressure from MPs and civil society will only grow louder and stronger until women’s rights are vindicated.”
Mara Clarke, founder of Abortion Support Network has said:
“Abortion Support Network wholeheartedly supports the letter. While provision of free abortion care in England for those able to travel is helpful, it is, like ASN, a sticking plaster until we see safe, legal abortion in Northern Ireland. Our helpline continues to hear from women who are unable to travel for reasons ranging from childcare to abusive partners, proving yet again that restrictive abortion laws most negatively impact the most vulnerable."
Franki Appleton, Marie Stopes UK Communications and Advocacy Advisor said:
“Northern Ireland’s abortion ban is a violation of women’s human rights. We will always support Northern Irish women who travel to our clinics in England to receive funded care, but there are still so many who are unable to travel, and ultimately, they should be able to access vital medical services in their own country. We support cross-party politicians to take decisive action now to ensure all Northern Irish women are finally afforded the care and compassion they deserve.”
Ruairi Rowan, FPA Senior Advocacy Officer said:
“For 30 years, FPA have provided pregnancy choices and post abortion counselling. Every day we see the impact that restrictive abortion law has on women and their families. It is unacceptable that women here are being left behind in a regime where abortion is illegal in almost every circumstance. Our work will continue to ensure that access to free, safe and legal abortion is enabled in Northern Ireland.”
We insist that now is the time to trust women in Northern Ireland to make decisions about their own bodies, their own lives. We call on you to act promptly to ensure that our laws promote and protect the rights of women, before another 350 women or even one more 12 year old girl has to travel.
*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.
Emma Campbell AFC on +44 (0)7894063965
Cara Sanquest LIARC on +353 (0)863346762