The Women and Equalities Committee in Westminster has launched an inquiry into abortion in Northern Ireland. We need as many people and organisations as possible to submit to this inquiry before 9th December (closes on 10th but we want to make sure it’s in early!).
Below we have set out the scope of the inquiry as well as some helpful bullet points on how to answer. We are concerned the Inquiry is trying to limit change to Fatal Foetal Anomaly and Sexual Crimes, despite the judgement of the Supreme Court and the CEDAW inquiry going much further. We will post helpful bullet points and sources below the scope of the inquiry
In Northern Ireland, abortion is only legal in circumstances where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy poses a serious, permanent or long-term risk to her health and wellbeing.
In 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women conducted an inquiry on the subject of access to abortion in Northern Ireland. It concluded that the rights of women in Northern Ireland were being violated by restrictions on access to abortion, and argued that devolution of power over criminal law to the Northern Ireland Assembly did not remove the responsibility of the UK Government for this matter.
A report by a working group commissioned by the former Health and Justice Ministers in Northern Ireland, published in April 2018, recommended that the law should be changed to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
In June 2018, the UK Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against the law on abortion in Northern Ireland on the grounds that the body which brought the case, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, did not have standing to do so. Although the Court therefore did not make a formal declaration of incompatibility (which would require the UK Government to take action), a majority of the judges stated their view that the laws are incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights—on respect for private and family life—in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.
Call for evidence
The Committee is seeking evidence on the following questions:
What are the views of the general public, women and medical and legal professionals in Northern Ireland about the law on abortion and whether it should be reformed? How have those views changed over time?
What are the experiences of women in Northern Ireland who have been affected by the law on abortion?
What are the responsibilities of the UK Government under its international obligations for taking action to reform abortion law in Northern Ireland? How should these be reconciled to the UK’s devolution settlement?
The Committee welcomes all views and will consult widely, both online, and face-to-face in Northern Ireland. Written anonymous submissions can be sent to the inquiry through our online portal. Information about making a submission is available here.
Here are some bullet points and links to further reading:
Current laws breach the rights of Northern Irish women – this is not a question of health or home affairs law but of human rights which are reserved to Westminster.
Northern Irish women are unable to access abortion within their own borders and those that do face life imprisonment
The law that criminalises Northern Irish women was passed by the UK Parliament in 1861 – it is out of date and older than the invention of the lightbulb.
Northern Ireland does not need a referendum like Ireland – this is not a constitutional issue but a simple repeal of legislation
We don’t need a referendum: Northern Ireland does not need a referendum like Ireland – this is not a constitutional issue but a repeal of legislation. What would the question even be?
Devolution is irrelevant when Human Rights are breached
Current laws breach the rights of Northern Irish women – this is not a question of health or home affairs law but of human rights which are reserved to Westminster
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women told the UK government in February 2018 that abortion law in Northern Ireland breached UK citizens’ human rights and called for the decriminalisation of abortion by repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act
This is not about direct Rule
This is not an English campaign – the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, an inter-departmental group of the Northern Irish government, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Amnesty International Northern Ireland, the NIFPA and Alliance for Choice, among many others support reform.
Stormont has not been adequately representing it’s people
According to a 2017 Trade Union Survey “Abortion as a workplace issue”
In Northern Ireland 84% of people do not think women should be prosecuted for having an abortion and only 9% think they should, and 73% of DUP voters support abortion in some circumstances - DUP MPs do not speak for the Northern Irish public. 72% disagree that the law in NI should remain as it is and only 20% agree with the status quo
Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2017
What the NILT findings also reveal is strong support for abortion reform in Northern Ireland across voters for all the main political parties here. In cases of fatal or serious foetal abnormality, where the life or health of the mother is at serious risk and in cases of rape and incest the overwhelming majority of supporters of each of the main parties said that in their view abortion should definitely or probably be legal.
Where there is a fatal foetal abnormality 88 percent of Alliance Party supporters said that abortion should be legal with 86 per cent of UUP voters, 80 percent of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) supporters and 75 and 74 per cent of Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Fein (SF) supporters respectively agreeing that it should be legal.
Where the pregnant women was likely to die as a result of the pregnancy, 96 per cent of Alliance supporters thought that abortion should be legal, as did 90 per cent of UUP supporters, 81 per cent of DUP supporters, 79 per cent of SF supporters and 74 per cent of SDLP supporters.
Across the range of scenarios Alliance supporters were the most likely to support legalisation of abortion followed by UUP supporters, and the views of SF and SDLP supporters were often closely aligned.
SF and SDLP supporters were the least likely to say that abortion should definitely be legal in the seven scenarios posed in the Life and Times survey.
While the DUP has said it will not support any change in the law in NI, its supporters believe abortion should be definitely or probably be legal in six out of the seven scenarios showing a higher level of support for reform of abortion law than SF or SDLP voters.
Women who seek to access abortion within Northern Ireland by, for instance, buying medically-safe abortion pills online, are committing an offence that carries a sentence of up to life in jail. This is not an abstract threat. In recent years, at least three women have been prosecuted by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service:
One teenager who could not afford to travel to England received a suspended prison sentence for taking pills bought online after her housemates reported her to the police.
A woman and her partner were forced to accept a police caution for purchasing pills online after her lawyers told the court that she was ‘vulnerable and immature’ with a history of self-harm that would be exacerbated by proceeding to trial. 3 of 4
A mother who bought pills online for her 16-year old daughter who was in an abusive relationship has been waiting for more than two years to judicially review the decision to prosecute her on evidence received from her GP’s surgery.
According to a 2016 Amnesty poll:
· 58% of Northern Irish people think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for women who have abortions in Northern Ireland; 22% are opposed to this change
· 59% of Northern Irish people think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for doctors and medical staff who assist women to have abortions in Northern Ireland; 21% are opposed to this change.
· 73% of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) voters would support provision of abortion in some circumstances, at odds with the party.