Following historic Irish referendum, campaigners call for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland
· Historic referendum shows clear support for women’s access to safe, legal abortion care in Ireland.
· However, in Northern Ireland, abortion is effectively banned and every day 3 women from Northern Ireland will travel to England for abortion care or resort to illegal online abortion medication, risking up to life imprisonment.
· A UN body has declared that the UK government is violating the human rights of NI women due to current abortion law.
· A coalition of charities from Northern Ireland and Great Britain, lead by the MP Stella Creasy, are calling for reform to protect women and improve access to care.
Following an overwhelming vote in support of repealing the 8th Amendment of the constitution in Ireland, campaigners are calling for the UK government to now bring forward legislation to reform abortion law in Northern Ireland.
Currently, abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland in all but the most exceptional of circumstances. In 2016, 724 women from Northern Ireland accessed abortion care in England and Wales. Women who are unable to travel are increasingly resorting to online abortion medication – risking up to life imprisonment. In the last 2 years a number of women have been through the courts for the use of abortion medication bought online, and a mother is currently awaiting trial in Belfast after purchasing pills for her young daughter.
In February of this year, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) declared that the UK government was violating the rights of women in Northern Ireland by the restrictions placed on abortion. CEDAW recommended that abortion should be decriminalised by the removal of sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA). While ministers have argued that abortion is a devolved matter, the UK Government has responsibility for ensuring all parts of the UK meet their obligations with regards to international conventions and treaties, including those related to human rights. Given the absence of a government in Northern Ireland, campaigners believe Westminster has a legal duty to act.
Stella Creasy MP said:
“This weekend 2.5 million Irish women won the basic human right to make choices themselves about their own bodies - those who fought this victory did so because these rights are at the heart of equality. Yet as we celebrate, we cannot rest knowing a million women in Northern Ireland do not have the same choice and that the UN has accused the U.K. government of cruel and inhuman treatment of their own citizens as a result. We cannot let Northern Irish women be left behind -That’s why we will be asking MPs to back legislation to bring the UKs abortion laws into the 21st century and to make sure all our citizens are given equal access to their reproductive rights.”
Cara Sanquest form the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, said:
“All of us in the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign welcome today's result - the people of Ireland have come together and voted yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
“People have been fighting for this for 35 years and this is a historic day. The result today shows that the people of Ireland want to provide care and compassion at home. This was a grassroots campaign, with women's voices at the centre.
“Women in Northern Ireland, who do not have access to abortion in their own country, are at the forefront of our minds today.
“Eleven women from the island of Ireland boarded planes this morning to access abortion services abroad. We're looking forward to a swift passing of the legislation, and that the momentum from this result will carry on with our campaign to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland.”
Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland Campaigns Manager for Amnesty International, said:
“The referendum result is a momentous win for women’s rights. This marks the beginning of a new Ireland - one that really does trust and value its women.
“The UK Government can no longer turn a blind eye and deny us equality, they must urgently legislate for reform which must include decriminalization of abortion.
"We cannot be left behind in a corner of the UK and on the island of Ireland as second-class citizens.”
Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, said:
"It is time for change across the whole island of Ireland. The UK government must show the same care and compassion towards women that voters in Ireland have done so historically today.
Every day, around three women from Northern Ireland travel to England for abortion care or illegally seek pills online – risking up to life in prison. The UK government cannot continue to try and absolve itself of their responsibility to these women. While ministers can say that abortion is a devolved issue, human rights are not, and the collapse of the NI Assembly means that the power to right this wrong lies solely in Westminster.”