Don’t Forget The Women of Northern Ireland

A “heartbeat” bill has been signed in Georgia in the United States to bring in a ban on abortion after six weeks, and Alabama has just past the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation since Roe v Wade. While social media has rightly been in uproar over this, people seem to have forgotten that abortion is illegal somewhere much closer to home.

Growing up in Northern Ireland, I was always aware of how socially conservative the entire island was — how engraved the Christian faith was to practically every aspect of life. I had a catholic education — from my first day of education till the day of my final A-Level exam. You were, to a large extent, expected to inherit those Christian ‘values’. I remember trying to debate the issue of abortion with some female classmates when I was an A-Level student — and you can imagine how well that went for me.

It’s estimated that a thousand women from Northern Ireland are forced to travel to England to access abortions every year. Having an abortion is an experience no woman ever plans on going through, it’s an experience no woman hopes to have to endure. This journey only adds to the trauma these women experience. Abortion is not looked on by any woman as a form of contraception – it is never a choice that any woman wants to have to make in their life. Far too often the humanity and reality of the situation is removed from the debate – far too often by the men who oppose any form of liberation of women’s rights.

These “heartbeat” bills seem to forget that women have a heartbeat as well.

So often the “pro-life” movement is one sided. They do not care about the women involved. They do not care about her circumstances. They do not ask “why?”. They do not think of the teenager girl, whose entire life is ahead of her. They do not think of the women who has a much-wanted pregnancy before being delivered with the most devastating news possible. They do not think of women like Savita Halappanavar, whose life was lost because a constitutional amendment prevented her doctors from carrying out what would have been a life saving medical procedure.

The pro-life movement is not pro-life at all, for it cares nothing about the life of the woman. She is viewed simply as a vessel.

It is not a question about whether you would have an abortion.
It is not a question about whether you morally accept the concept.
It is a ultimately question about whether you trust women.

I am pro-choice not in spite of being a conservative; I’m pro-choice because I am a conservative.
Because I believe people can make better decisions than the government.
Because I believe in the concept of individual liberty.
Because I believe a woman can make the best choice over what happens to her own body.
Because I believe all women should be given the choice that Savita Halappanavar was robbed of ever having by the Irish Constitution.

The reality of the situation is that women from Northern Ireland have abortions. You will never end abortions, you will only end safe abortions. Abortions will always happen; they have always happened. The reality is that these women are robbed of the right to be able to access such health care at home. They’re forced to get on a plane to England to be able to access reproductive healthcare. Those who can’t afford the flight can end up going to desperate measure of buying unregulated pills online.

The situation in Northern Ireland has been condemned from the Supreme Court, who said it needs “radical reconsideration”, to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which called it a “grave and systematic” violation of human rights.

The political stalemate in Stormont has once again become a barricade in the progress of women’s rights in Northern Ireland. The two largest parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – fundamentally disagree on legalising abortion. The DUP have previously blocked abortion legislation through the petition of concern mechanism, while Sinn Fein have been arguing in favour of legalisation even more so since the referendum in the Republic of Ireland. Health is a devolved matter for Stormont, and Westminster is unwilling to legislate in the absence of the Assembly. There’s truthfully no clear path for abortion being legalised in Northern Ireland, so long as the DUP oppose it. Unless there is a referendum or legislation passed by Westminster, which is unlikely to happen even in a direct rule scenario.

While you are rightfully protesting about the “heartbill” bills and near-total ban on abortion in the United States, don’t forget that there are women in the United Kingdom who have no access to abortion services. Mary Robinson, the first female Irish President, once said that “the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system”. They did just that in last year’s referendum. The women of Northern Ireland will someday achieve the same and rock the system. The time is now for Northern Ireland’s women to finally have free, safe and legal access to abortions at home.

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