It is likely that we will welcome the decriminalisation of abortion in NI on 22nd October 2019. We thought it would be useful to outline the possibilities and address any myths that are already in circulation about what this means.
How does Section 75 interact with the requirements of the new amendment on abortion in Northern ireland
The UK Supreme Court stated that the existing law is incompatible with Article 8 (right to a private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights – with two justices finding that it was also incompatible with Article 3 (right not to be subjected to inhuman, cruel, or degrading treatment).
As organisations who have supported the push for abortion access in Northern Ireland we are encouraged by the possibility of movement in Westminster. Another Executive Functions Bill points to the failures of the devolved Northern Irish Assembly and the continued refusal of the UK government to act decisively in the interest of NI citizens.
As well as a number of ongoing Judicial Reviews, and the statement by the Supreme Court Judges in 2018, the UN has repeatedly called on the UK government to provide equal access to abortion services across all the regions without criminalisation. Devolution is not a barrier when human rights are at stake and where the health and private lives of women, pregnant people and their families are jeopardised by the unjust ramifications of the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act. It’s time that Parliament acted to use its powers to remove this draconian legislation and prove that they regard people who need abortion in NI as equal to those in England.
The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey has consistently shown that the people of Northern Ireland want Westminster to legislate to reform the abortion law, and over 80% of NI people surveyed for the Trade Union report, Abortion as a Workplace Issue study said they did not want women criminalised. There is a clear ministerial and Parliamentary majority for supporting these changes for Northern Ireland we simply need the opportunity for MPs to act.
Each of our organisations working across this issue have been answering calls to people in distress for far too long. Not one more person should be arrested, not one more woman should be forced to secretly take abortion pills without knowing she has the support of medical staff if she needs aftercare and not one more girl should have to travel on a plane to access healthcare after being the victim of a sexual crime.
All of us would urge MPs across the house to listen to the people of Northern Ireland, to the tens of thousands who have voted with their feet and taken planes and boats to England for over 50 years. No matter what happens in Parliament this coming week, someone will be on a plane tonight and someone else tomorrow morning, alone, away from home and the friends and family that could be their support network.
More Info Courtesy of BPAS:
New Clauses 11 and 12 Amendment
NC11 and NC12 have been laid to Northern Ireland legislation before the House on 9th July 2019. They are substantive amendments that will not affect the passage of the bill.
NC11 requires the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in the absence of NI ministers, to make an oral statement to the House of Commons on the progress towards implementing recommendations of the UN’s CEDAW Inquiry into Northern Ireland which found that the law should be amended in Northern Ireland to decriminalise abortion.
NC12 draws attention to UK government’s reasoning that it will not act to protect human rights in Northern Ireland in the absence of Northern Irish Ministers, despite their obligations under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and ensures that nothing in this Act can be read so as to derogate from these obligations.
NC11 and 12 have been signed by more than 60 MPs.
They have been proposed by Stella Creasy. Supporters include George Freeman, Diana Johnson, Ed Vaizey, Jo Swinson, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, and Caroline Lucas.
In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland today, any woman who ends her own pregnancy at any stage can be sent to prison for life under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – a law created before women could even vote.
With the Supreme Court stating that the current situation regarding the lack of access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland to be a breach of human rights, Members of Parliament and campaigners have been calling for the UK Government to intervene to protect the rights of the people of Northern Ireland.
The Now for NI campaign
The Now for NI campaign is run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. In conjunction with Amnesty Northern Ireland and Alliance for Choice, we are campaigning to repeal and reform this law, decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland, England, and Wales.
and anywhere else facing abortion push back
Finally, you and the people you help might actually get arrested, you might have your homes searched and your workplaces raided. Maybe a GP will inform the police of your illegal behaviour, or a flatmate… either way you really have to know who you can trust with the information about your medical procedure, if you access pills at home because you cannot travel.
AfC response to Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry on Abortion in Northern Ireland, report says; “Government must set out timetable for responding to breaches identified by UN Committee monitoring women’s rights”
Today the Women and Equalities Committee have published their findings from their Inquiry into Abortion in Northern Ireland. In it they set out clear needs that must be met by the Westminster Government urgently.
Alliance for Choice welcomed the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) report. We are glad that the Committee recognise the urgent need for government action and we are bolstered by the request for a timetable for this action from the Westminster government.
Alliance for Choice took part in the Inquiry in good faith and made a concerted effort for the voices of women and pregnant people to be heard, most especially those who have been let down by the legal system surrounding abortion access in Northern Ireland (NI). Our involvement in the inquiry included the experiences of those in precarious financial situations, those whose situation prevents them from accessing the necessary time off, migrant status, childcare or physical ability to fly to England. We also included the first-hand stories of those who were in coercive control and violent relationships, those who simply couldn’t afford another mouth to feed in the climate of austerity and those who received upsetting diagnoses of severe foetal anomalies.
We included evidence from our groundbreaking work on abortion as a workplace issue and the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2016. Some individual experiences from our evidence highlighted the stigma and internalised trauma which is exacerbated by the secrecy required when a healthcare procedure is deemed a punishable offence in law and others expressed the levels of fear associated with buying and taking medicines online and illegally, given prosecutions have been made.
The report highlights events since the collapse of the devolved NI Assembly such as the funding for women and pregnant people to access abortion healthcare and travel and accommodation for some, in England, Wales and Scotland. They note the Supreme Court findings of severe failings with regard to abortion provision in NI and the CEDAW Committee’s findings of systematic breaches of human rights. They acknowledge the rise of the illegal use of telemedicine abortion pills from online sources and the lack of movement within NI in terms of Foetal Abnormality despite the working group and acknowledge that all of this still leaves us lacking.
Alliance for Choice’s Co-Chair Emma Campbell said,“We believe that now is the time for action. We do not need any more reports, we do not want women and others seeking abortions to have to go through a court process in order to access healthcare freely and easily available to everyone else in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Devolution is not an excuse for inaction, such incredible infringements of our human rights need addressed by the State Party responsible for them; the British government at Westminster. Our bodies are not part of a bargaining package for Brexit, they are flesh and blood.”
Ashleigh Topley, one of the women who gave evidence and who was part of the Supreme Court case said:
“I would like to thank the committee for taking the time to listen to those of us who have been directly impacted by the law as it stands here in Northern Ireland and I welcome the recommendations that have been set out in the report. However, I believe that the recommendations do not go far enough and that accessing abortion should be decriminalised and available here in Northern Ireland.”
Jill McManus, a representative of Doctors for Choice UK and Medical Students for Choice in Belfast said,
“The report clearly shows that the archaic laws governing abortion care in Northern Ireland restrict and prevent healthcare staff from providing adequate support to women and pregnant people. This report also clearly states that the Westminster government must act in the absence of a devolved government. While these findings are welcome, they are not surprising, and have already been stated by the CEDAW Inquiry. Therefore, we hope that Westminster does not delay any further in acting on these findings so that those who need abortion care are no longer let down by their government and healthcare staff have the support of their Trusts and guidance in how to best support patients.”
Alliance for Choice urges the British Government to end the use of our bodies for political expediency, end the discrimination against Northern Irish people, end forcing thousands of us to use illegal medication online, end the pursuance and arrest of abortion pill use and finally, in 2019, almost 160 years after the 1861 Act was written, repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act to swiftly and simply remove the human rights abuses documented in our evidence to this inquiry and to the CEDAW Inquiry.
The actions urged by the WEC are included below.
Notes to Editors
The report recommends that:
the Government needs to set out a clear framework and timeline to address the breaches of women’s rights in Northern Ireland that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women identified if there is no government in Northern Ireland to take this action.
the UK Government must set out a timetable for rectifying the error in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s standing within the next six months so that an individual victim, such as a victim of rape or incest, does not have to take a case to court.
the Government Equalities Office should publish its legal advice on the scheme funding women and girls from Northern Ireland to access abortions in England, then
the Department of Health for Northern Ireland should reissue guidance for healthcare professionals making it clear that referring patients to the funded scheme is not unlawful.
the Government Equalities Office should publish an equality impact assessment on the UK Government funded scheme and should work with community organisations supporting marginalised groups of women and girls to develop an information campaign to explain the provision.
the GEO should work with the Home Office to develop pathways for migrant women to travel to England to access the free provision.
the Attorney General for Northern Ireland should publish human rights guidance stating that it will rarely be in the public interest to prosecute survivors of rape and incest, and professionals treating them, who have not reported the offence to the police.
Without including NI, the UK will not be compliant with the Istanbul Convention
The Government has made repeatedly clear that this bill is, in part, designed to ensure that the UK is in compliance with the Istanbul Convention. However, there are a number of ways in which the current bill would leave the UK in contravention of a number of articles in the Convention.
“I am still waiting to see the Secretary of State do her job. I am still waiting for cross party talks to convene. I am still waiting for the appointment of an independent talks facilitator.
“The Tory Party are no friends of the people of Northern Ireland and certainly not the majority who voted to remain in the European Union.”
Clare Bailey MLA concluded:
“The only people that matter to the Prime Minister in the Northern Ireland context are the 10 DUP MPs that prop up her callous and shambolic Westminster government.”
Abortion debate in Westninster regarding NI following referendum in Ireland in 2018
Even those who could be considered to meet the limited legal circumstances provided in the 1861 Act and the Bourne Judgment are being denied care at home and forced to travel, break the law, or continue with a pregnancy against their will.
Alliance for Choice continues to receive calls from desperate people who can't travel, worried that accessing abortion pills online will see them arrested. We have been let down by our representatives who either refuse to take seat in Parliament or refuse to acknowledge the public will in NI for change. Westminster has the power to make this change.
How to submit
Here is our guide and form to enable individual and anonymous responses…
If you have had an experience around abortion in NI, whether you accessed treatment yourself or helped a friend or family member, the inquiry needs to learn about the impact of our strict laws on the people needing abortions.
The Women and Equalities Committee launches inquiry looking into abortion law in Northern Ireland.
Equal Rights for NI
Please email members of the House of Lords to ask them to support Clause 4 on the NI Bill
Please email members of the House of Lords to ask them to support Clause 4 on the NI Bill
A briefing on the issues of Northern Ireland Abortion law and policy, Autumn 2018 from the Reproductive health law and policy advisory group
What is happening?
This week there are two important debates happening in Westminster which could help change the law in Northern Ireland.
On Tuesday Diana Johnston is bringing a 10 Minute Rule Bill calling for the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
On Wednesday Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn have tabled amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Function) Bill. These amendments would allow for the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland, and provision for same sex marriage.
· As a historic bill to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland is launched in parliament, women who have been affected by the current ban have appealed to MPs for reform.
· The testimony collected by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, and Alliance for Choice NI includes women who have been forced to continue pregnancies with no chance of survival to term
· A video released today features a young Northern Irish woman, Emma, 18, telling MPs that abortion “is not a devolved issue” while 28 weeks pregnant with a baby with a fatal foetal anomaly. She was denied an abortion in Northern Ireland and felt unable to travel for treatment in England.
· Other women speak of the difficulties of travelling to England to access care, and one woman from Belfast describes having to wait over three hours in an airport while bleeding.
· Campaigners call on MPs from all parties to “listen to the voices of the women of Northern Ireland” and unite behind moves for reform.
Mother & Daughter abortion pills case
Judicial Review heard in Belfast today
Alliance for Choice, along with a coalition of charities including the Family Planning Association (FPA), the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), and the Abortion Support Network (ASN) are intervening in support of the mother’s application. We are arguing that a prosecution in these circumstances makes those accessing self-induced abortion with pills unwilling to seek medical advice for fear of prosecution. While abortion medication is safe, there can be side effects; follow-up care in the rare event of serious complications, such as haemorrhage, should be able to be accessed without fearing police involvement.
The 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act is a piece of Victorian legislation written and enacted in the full throes of British Colonialism. To shirk responsibility for writing this continued wrong against women and pregnant people in Northern Ireland is breath-taking. Westminster had the power to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland until 2008, then, as now, our bodies have been a bargaining tool for the DUP. Their hold over swing votes in the house has meant we have remained outside of the Union in terms of human rights.
Alliance for Choice have today launched #PENNYPOST - a social media campaign which encourages people in Northern Ireland to write to the Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, urging her to stand up for the women and pregnant people of Northern Ireland and stop their treatment as second class citizens.