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.