A Compromise Approach to Abortion Rights in Northern Ireland

By Keeley Buckley

In a rapid turn of events, Labour MP Stella Creasy put forward an amendment in the UK Parliament, asking for Northern Irish women to be entitled to have abortions paid for by The National Health service in England.

Northern Ireland has strict laws surrounding abortion. In fact, it can only be legally performed if the pregnancy is deemed medically life-threatening to the mother. Many women travel to England in an attempt to seek a legal abortion. However, they have to pay for the procedure themselves – the cost is in the region of £900 (read more here).

Creasy’s amendment was actually pulled from Parliament before the vote could take place. She had received assurances from the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond and Secretary for Women, Justine Greening, that the matter was already in hand and that these women would now receive the care they need on the NHS.

The move was highly contentious, with strong feelings and debates playing out across social media, particularly in the Twittersphere.

While the scope of the abortion debate is wide and whilst we try to be an inclusive society that values everybody’s thoughts, abortions will always be primarily a women’s issue. Pregnancy is biologically, hormonally, emotionally, physically and socially a process that women have ownership of. The religious, social, moral and financial questions arising from the abortion debate are more often than not aimed primarily at women rather than men.

Is there a middle ground here that has been overlooked? Is it is time for all of us to look at abortion as a medical procedure and not a moral choice?

For instance, a foetus is viable from around 21 weeks. But, in England a legal abortion can be carried out up to 24 weeks. Some view this as inhumane, particularly pro-life activists. Though in contrast, the Northern Irish law-makers will not give a woman who has been the victim of incest and is now pregnant the option to terminate the pregnancy, despite the potential psychological damage. This is also inhumane and a situation that would for sure anger a pro-choice activist. Is the answer to negotiate with Northern Ireland by offering to lower the legal limit on abortion time in the rest of UK based on the viability of the foetus, asking Northern Ireland to match that law given that the abortion would not be terminating a viable life, thus rendering the religious and moral standpoints irrelevant?

It wouldn’t please everyone, and there would still be various arguments such as the potential father’s rights. But it at least offers one sensible solution. If medicine were to dictate if a procedure would be psychologically or biologically necessary for the mother or the foetus, then the termination could go ahead across the whole of the United Kingdom using NHS funds. Within the time constraints it would not end a viable life and would still give the woman the time to make her choice.  Crucially, it would avoid women having to make the journey from Northern Ireland to England.


About the Author

Keeley a woman with an everyday job, mother, wife. Politically in the centre, hoping to influence a way of thinking that is equal for all.



Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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