Outdated, absurd and degrading: time to change Northern Ireland’s abortion laws
It is taken for granted that we all can control what happens to our body. Women in Northern Ireland however do not have control over their own bodies. Northern Ireland abortion law operates under ‘The Offences against the Person Act’, which dates back to 1861. This law predates the Representation of the People Act of 1918 that allowed women to vote for the first time, it predates the invention of the lightbulb in 1879 and it predates the repeal of the last Witchcraft Act in 1951. To say Northern Ireland abortion law is outdated, is an understatement.
Politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly are failing women, shirking their responsibilities and failing to provide adequate medical care for women. The notion that holding political office allows one to dictate what women can do with their bodies is one that needs to be eradicated. Denying women the right to an abortion is not making the issue disappear and it is not solving it. Instead women have to access pills online via organisations such as Women Help Women or travel to other parts of the UK to access safe terminations. Women are forced to do these in secrecy as though it were a shameful act that they should hide, not a consequence of being denied their human rights.
In April 2016, a 21 year girl from Belfast, who induced an abortion after buying pills online as she could not afford to travel to the UK to have an abortion, was given an extended prison sentence. She is being punished for making the only decision she could in her situation. She is being punished for exercising control of her own body and taking a pill. This is sadly only one of many cases of the degradation and punishment of women here.
I recently saw a Facebook post that perfectly summed up the absurdness of the Northern Ireland abortion law. If you don’t want to donate blood, no one can force you to. If someone dies their organs cannot be used for life saving donations without their consent. Thus, women in Northern Ireland are being asked to accept less control over their body than we grant to dead bodies. This is unacceptable.
This year, I took an important step in fighting for abortion rights. I joined the only party in the Assembly that supports the full extension of the 1967 Abortion Act; the Green Party. I believe small acts like this will led to the watershed change that is needed. The growth of parties and organisations that pledge to fight for women’s rights will provide the change. Every single person that joins parties like the Green Party contributes to the change. This Thursday, the 5th of May, you have the chance to make the change and the chance to stand up and fight for women’s rights.
‘They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself’ – Andy Warhol. Make the change, vote Green.
*Please remember, if you are under 9 weeks pregnant and living in Northern Ireland, please visit Women on Web or Women Help Women for access to an Early Medical Abortion. If you are over 9 weeks pregnant, please visit Abortion Support Network for information on travelling to the UK for a termination.