Embargoed until 00:01 Wednesday 10th October
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Northern Irish women directly affected by abortion ban tell Westminster to support reform - as MPs launch historic bill
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.
A group of women from Northern Ireland who have been affected by the near-total ban on abortion in the country have publically described the pain and distress caused by the current law, and called on MPs to back moves for reform as a cross-party bill to decriminalise abortion is launched in parliament.
A short film released today by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, features a young woman from Northern Ireland who was 28 weeks pregnant. Emma, 18, discovered at her 20 week scan that her baby had anencephaly, a fatal condition where the skull does not form properly. While NI women have been able to access funded care in England since June 2017, there are women who are unable to travel due to caring responsibilities or the need to maintain their confidentiality. Emma, from Belfast, stated that she did not travel for abortion care because she wanted to with her family at this incredibly distressing time:
“I was given the option to travel to England for an abortion, but I didn’t want to do that. I want to be with the support of my family, in a place that I’m familiar. I want in the moment that she is born, for her to be surrounded by her family and be surrounded by love.”
Two of the women described the difficulties they have faced when accessing abortion in England:
“In the airport, I was sore, bleeding, exhausted and all I wanted to do was lie down, instead I had to wait 3 and a half hours till my flight.” Jane, Belfast
"I lied to my employer. I planned my abortion for the Friday so I didn’t have to take two days off work and could use the weekend to recover… but women don’t want to get on a flight, they don’t want to stay in cheap hotels or hostels, they don’t want to lie to their employers and their families... They want to be able to access abortion in Northern Ireland without the need to travel. Why is that so much to ask?" Maggie, South Belfast
While government ministers have argued that only Stormont has the power to reform NI abortion laws, Northern Irish women speaking out today have specifically called for Westminster to legislate:
“I feel especially now, with the changes that have happened in the Republic, it is really important for Westminster to change the law on behalf of the women of Northern Ireland… In my eyes I don’t think it is a devolved issue… People are directly affected by this every single day, and I’m one of those people.” Emma, Belfast
“Westminster must act now to change the law... Shunning women and forcing them to either carry on with the pregnancy or travel for a termination only magnifies their grief and devastation." Ashleigh, Portadown
Today, Diana Johnson and a coalition of MPs from 5 political parties have the first private members bill which seeks to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by repealing sections 58 and 59 of the UK-wide Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which makes abortion at any gestation a crime carrying a possible sentence of life imprisonment. The bill would also decriminalise abortion in England and Wales, a move which won parliamentary support last March, and is due to be debated in parliament on 23rd October.
Emma Campbell from Alliance for Choice, an organisation which campaigns for abortion rights in Northern Ireland, adds:
“Beyond these brave women who have spoken out about their experiences, there are tens of thousands of people who have travelled for abortion care and thousands more who risked prosecution at home because they couldn't. They should be the only testimony Westminster needs to show that Northern Ireland needs abortion decriminalised now. All we ask is that it is regulated like any other reproductive healthcare and be available in the country we reside in. Our human rights, our dignity and our safety depend on it, we should not have to wait any longer.
“We urge MPs to listen to the people of NI and support the bill.”
For media enquiries please call 0207 061 3377, 07788 725 185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For case studies, please call Emma Campbell, Co-Chair, Alliance for Choice, on 07895063965
Notes to Editors:
bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.
About Alliance for Choice
Alliance for Choice is an organisation that campaigns to end the criminalisation of abortion and gain access to reproductive justice in NI. More information can be found at http://www.alliance4choice.com/