The UK government has been complicit in Northern Ireland’s near-total ban on abortion for fifty years. Now, British activists and politicians must join the fight for changeby Rachel Watters / May 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
The landslide result of the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland has brought long-overdue attention to the UK’s blind spot for reproductive rights: Northern Ireland.
50 years after its enactment in Great Britain, the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland and abortion is only permitted there in circumstances where it is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant person.
The essence of the problem is twofold. First, politicians at Stormont and Westminster have gravely neglected the human rights of people in Northern Ireland by refusing to legislate for access to abortion services there, and allowing people who self-induce abortions via imported pills to be criminalised under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
Second, feminist activists and left-wing campaigners in Great Britain have ultimately failed over the course of the last 50 years to offer genuine and consistent solidarity to Northern Irish pro-choice activists in the fight for reform.
It is long past time for politicians and allies to change their approach and support abortion reform in earnest.
A human rights issue
International human rights bodies routinely criticise the complicity of the UK government in the denial of abortion rights in Northern Ireland to little effect.
A February 2018 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) states that the status quo in Northern Ireland demonstrates “grave and systemic” breaches of the human rights of pregnant people by the UK government. Yet, like its Labour and Conservative predecessors since 1967, Theresa May’s government continues to use devolution as a shield against calls for abortion reform.
Following the Irish referendum result, May has once again rejected the idea of MPs legislating from Westminster. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, made it clear in recent weeks that the option for Westminster to intervene to ensure legal access to abortion there is firmly off the table.
The disparity in access to abortion within the UK is more than an unfortunate consequence of devolution. In the absence…