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Friday, 10 October 2008


The government’s official line on the abortion vote on 22 October is that it is neutral on all of the amendments; they think that the law is working as intended and they have no proposals to change the law themselves.

But it will advise members to vote against the amendment to extend safe, legal abortion to women in Northern Ireland.

The government’s position on the New Clause 30, tabled under the amendments to the Embryology Bill, was first bought to my attention at the Abortion Rights meeting this week.
The Government is arguing that this is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with. They have reached this view mainly as a result of strong lobbying from NI assembly members who have threatened that if legislation is passed on abortion in NI it will upset the peace process.

Obviously no one wishes to do this, but as Annie Campbell from the NI Alliance for Choice so passionately put it at Tuesday's Abortion Rights meeting, “What about the women who put blood sweat and tears into this process. How long do we have to wait for our basic human rights?”

She went on to compare the threat waged by the Assembly, that an extension of abortion rights to NI will threaten the peace process, as a “bold lie” and likened it to "chicken liken" saying the “sky is going to fall in”.

In three years 80,000 women have travelled from NI to England for an abortion. A massive amount when you take into account the whole population of NI only totals 1.7 million and if you include all the families, friends and colleagues who have supported those women in making that choice.

To make the journey from NI to the UK each of those women has to really suffer. Women who have been raped, suffered incest, whose pregnancy puts their health at risk or whose baby may be predicted to suffer from a painful disability are all denied an abortion on their home territory. The only route these women have to a termination is to travel to the UK, where they have no choice but to pay privately from £600 to £2000, depending on the stage of their pregnancy.

This is where abortion becomes a class issue in Ireland. To go on a plane or to England women have to have either a driving licence or a passport, not something that a large number of women living in poverty in NI have.

Frightened and concerned Northern Irish women who seek out advice on how to access abortion services currently meet a barrage of abuse. At Tuesday's meeting Dr Audrey Simpson from the Family Planning Association in NI described how her offices are picketed every minute that they are open. Women seeking advice have to first pass through protestors shouting “Murderer!” And “Whore!” Those that make it past this barrage of abuse into the clinic are then followed out, to the bus stop or taxi or their walk home and shown pictures of dead foetuses and publicly jeered at in the street.

Dr Simpson was very clear in her advice to those English MPs who fear they may be overstepping their line of rule in voting for an extension of abortion rights to NI:

“ In the 1967 vote on abortion, all 17 Northern Irish MPs turned up to vote. Despite the fact it was on a Friday, when they would usually be home, and despite the fact it had absolutely nothing to do with Northern Ireland.”

Dr Simpson reasoned that Northern Irish MPs are more than happy to legislate against abortion in England, so English MPs should have no qualms in doing the reverse. Especially on such a fundamental position of human rights, in a country where it is still enshrined in legislation, that the punishment for a women who takes control of her own body and has an abortion is a lifetime in prison.

As opportunities to purchase the abortion pill over the internet increase and more women self medicate, the threat of this penal system is seriously jeopardising women’s health. Many women are taking this pill then not seeking help when things go wrong, as they fear legal reprisal.

I will discuss the details of this on my next blog.

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