Abortion law in Britain is fraught with issues, but since 1967 women in England, Scotland and Wales have had access to safe and legal abortions.
Yet in the United Kingdom there remains an oft-forgotten area that still refuses to conform to this liberty, decades after it was granted.
Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion would shock you. Women can face life imprisonment for obtaining an illegal abortion in Northern Ireland.
Every day, women face the prospect of carrying a child they do not want due to their country’s restrictions on their bodies. Every day, women are bound by outdated and medieval laws and restrictions that mean they have no voice and no choice over their bodies and their future.
Understanding why these constraints still exist is a minefield. However, put simply: Northern Ireland’s Assembly in Stormont has been inactive after its collapse in 2017, following the catastrophic RHI scandal. Since then, the Democratic Unionist Party, one of the leading parties in Northern Ireland, joined Theresa May’s Conservative Party in a effort to keep the Tories with a majority in Westminster. May’s allegiance to the resolutely anti-abortion DUP has halted any further efforts to overturn abortion legislation in Northern Ireland.
The frustrating thing about this, of course, is that over 70 per cent of Northern Ireland agrees that abortion should be made legal, according to a recent poll. Not only do the DUP not represent Northern Ireland when it comes to Brexit (of which most voted Remain), but they are also misrepresented on the subject of abortion. While the DUP, a party mostly made up of white men, continues to obstruct women’s freedom, the rest of the country has moved on.
Now that Theresa May has left her post as Prime Minister, it is up to whoever takes her place to stand up to the DUP and finally make a change that will impact the lives of vulnerable women in Northern Ireland who are forced to travel in circumstances that are already undesirable in order to receive an abortion. Attention must be paid to Brexit, yes- but the incumbent successor to May must pay attention to suffering that’s been going on far longer than the European Union.
It’s a frightening fact that in 2019, Northern Irish women who have become pregnant from rape will face more time in prison than their rapist.
In 2019, too much attention has been paid to the unending uncertainty of Brexit and too little attention paid to the intolerable legislation on women’s reproductive rights.
As of May this year, women in Alabama, USA, have had their reproductive rights ripped from their hands. This kind of walk backwards into the past is terrifying and on so many levels, is wrong.
But Northern Irish women have never had the rights to be taken away in the first place. Every day, women have had to make excruciating choices over their future. The law is merciless. Where once we thought being part of the UK would make our laws more modern than the Republic and allow us to be free from religion restraining our rights, we see now that the British government will not look out for our interests – at least as long as one of our parties holds the noose around the Conservative Party’s neck.
I have always tolerated the other opinions in this debate. I have listened as those with a more conservative mindset have lamented the sacred nature of life; as many logical arguments are brought to the argument against abortion – or at least against abortion after a certain number of weeks. I have disagreed, but remained respectful of these opinions and even entertained their own validity, questioning my own stance on a few occasions.
However, I have always returned to the belief that the more we put constraints and stipulations and what-ifs on this choice, the less it becomes a choice and the more it becomes a barbed-wire fence. It injects fear into an already fraught issue.
It’s been said before, more eloquently and more concisely – but if you don’t want to have an abortion, don’t have one.
The right to abortion is and has always been about the personal choice of the individual – one that I believe is tantamount to women’s equality in this society. If we can allow men to walk free from a child, we must allow women to do the same. Human rights are nothing to do with what we think about the case and the situation – it’s about liberty and justice for the individual, no matter what.