Ireland has voted to repeal the 8th. Now Northern Ireland's victorian abortion laws must fall too.

Posted by Emma Norton on 26 May 2018

Ireland has today voted overwhelmingly to reform its abortion laws to enable women to access abortion services up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

There will be battles ahead – but it’s a huge step forward for women’s rights in a country that has undergone a huge amount of social change in the last generation.

But on this day it is absolutely vital that we don’t forget our sisters in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the world. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act still applies, and a woman can only have an abortion if she is at immediate risk of death.

There is no exception for fatal foetal abnormalities or pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. In those circumstances, she must go ahead with the pregnancy. If she doesn’t, she faces up to life in prison.

The laws that have reformed abortion rights in the rest of the UK do not apply. Despite the best efforts of some brilliant campaigners and creative lawyers, the Courts have repeatedly ruled that these laws can only be changed by legislators.

There is little chance of that happening in the current political climate. So the women of Northern Ireland continue to suffer dreadful unfairness.

This has resulted in a 19-year-old woman ordering the abortion pill over the internet, only to be reported to police (by her flatmates), arrested and prosecuted.

And the case of a 15 year old who was in an abusive relationship and became pregnant. She told her mum, who arranged for the abortion pill and a visit to the GP – who promptly reported them both to the police.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of women every year are forced to travel from Northern Ireland to the mainland to access services. Until very recently, those women would have to pay for abortion services too, out of their own pocket.

Thankfully, last year the UK Government decided to change the rules. But this is a sticking plaster solution for a systemic problem – women seeking abortion services still have to find the money for travel and accommodation, meaning the poorest continue to find it hardest to get the help they need.

Women in Northern Ireland should enjoy the same right to access all pregnancy and abortion services as the rest of us in the UK, freely and without fear. These Victorian abortion laws are violating their human rights and discriminating against them.

But there are countless people who have been fighting, formidably and tirelessly, for more than 50 years to put this right, in the fight of shameful political inaction – and their fight goes on.

Let’s not forget that today.

Emma Norton

Emma Norton

Liberty
Head of Legal Casework