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.

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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.

 

 

DUP-ed in the City

By A. C. Phipps

My favourite signs on marches are always the ones which read “I CAN’T BELIEVE I STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS SHIT”.

This sentiment seemed particularly apt on 24th June 2017, when I marched with hundreds of women to Downing Street, dressed in red, to protest the impending deal between the Tories and the DUP, which has now been secured to the tune of £1bn.

Needless to say, I wasn’t best pleased to have my body used as a bartering chip for political gain.

While we indulged in zeitgeisty witticisms (“MY OVARIES ARE NOT A FIELD OF WHEAT”) and stopped traffic in its tracks along Whitehall (one policeman told me “YOU’RE CAUSING ABSOLUTE CHAOS”, and I told him “THAT’S THE POINT!”), it was underscored with a palpable fear that the most powerful woman in the country was giving her approval to a party which are openly anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ rights.

I speak from a position of safety and privilege when I note from afar that austerity disproportionately affects women (it really does: see here), and when I recoil in horror at the fact that the government have found £1bn for political gain, while unashamedly slashing funds to domestic abuse services (outlined here).

But I speak from a position of personal and genuine vulnerability as a woman who wants to own her body, have control over her reproductive rights, and see free, safe and legal abortion become a universal human right. Pregnancy when wanted is a beautiful thing. But I also know that many women have felt the moment of fear as they watch the blue lines on a pregnancy test map out their future. The feeling that your body may go from personal to public ownership. For me, I always know that in the background there is the safety net of free and safe abortions in England. For other women around the world, they have no such reassurance. And as Margaret Atwood has recently said, forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy is a form of slavery (in this interview).

Our bodies should be sites of pleasure, tenderness, empowerment, lust, love and joy – all of the above, some of the above, or whatever else a woman wants hers to be. What they should not be is regulated, debated on by men, or used as sites of oppressive political discourse.

With the DUP refusing to shift their views on abortion in Northern Ireland, despite this deal, we will continue taking to the streets until our Prime Minister realises that her powers go beyond wearing a “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” t-shirt. She must speak out in favour of both protecting and extending abortion rights, not just within the context of our new political dealings in the UK, but also with Trump and other world leaders. In doing so, she will acknowledge that all genders prosper in a society which is open to giving women choice over how they live their lives.

Stella Creasy’s victory in securing women from Northern Ireland access to abortions on the NHS in England is a stunning victory – but it is only one step in the right direction. The thing about rights is they can always be taken away, and where they are present, they are lacking elsewhere. That’s why, as frustrating as it is to “STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS SHIT”, I will continue with the mantra “MY BODY MY CHOICE”. Because my body is every woman’s body.

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