Why are there no protests, marches, or petitions in Britain for the reproductive rights of Northern Irish women? – This question was asked (in not so many words) in my house in the light of the many demonstrations that have taken place across the UK recently. In Northern Ireland abortion is entirely illegal except in cases of a significant threat to the health of the mother, a ban which includes cases of rape, incest, and foetal abnormality. Whilst Northern Ireland is obviously a largely devout Christian country, an Amnesty International poll concluded that 58% of residents believe abortion should be decriminalised, and 72% support abortion in cases of rape and incest, a figure that has risen 3% in the last 3 years. This ban doesn’t stop abortion altogether, with thousands of women flying to England every year to procure abortions at their own cost (if they can afford it). Until recently, flying to England for an NHS abortion was a difficult but worthwhile option, however the NHS has ceased funding the procedure for women making the trip, leaving private clinics as their only option. Irish medical staff aren’t even allowed to assist women in making these plans, fearing career-ending legal cases and prison time.
The fact is that with the younger generations comes a new perspective on many historically controversial issues and the current law does not reflect the will of the people, but politics in Northern Ireland is still ruled by sectarian religious parties. With elections to be held on March 2nd not much is set to change, thanks in part to the low voter turnout among the country’s youth. If politicians in Stormont can only be held more accountable to their constituents, then democracy can do its job.
Since Trump took office I have been consistently surprised and delighted with the amount of activism and public outcry over his administrations’ anachronistic policies. It shows (as if the popular vote wasn’t enough) that America is a forward-thinking country with compassionate and self-aware citizens. I have every sympathy with the aims of the Women’s solidarity marches as well as the UK protests against a Trump state visit. A display of unity against the Islamic travel ban is a fantastic thing to have happened, but where is the solidarity with the women who are denied the right to a procedure that has been available in the rest of the UK for very nearly half a century? If there is no outrage, it MUST be because there is no awareness outside of Northern Ireland. In a country where sectarianism has intensified religious belief, those who would normally be leading the campaign are discouraged by the vocal minority – Arlene Foster and the DUP (who have voted against every attempt to give rights to the LGBTQ community), not to mention the historical threat of religiously motivated terror attacks. Given that the statistics show the majority support decriminalisation, shouldn’t we be championing the rights of women who might feel too at risk to do it themselves? When the numbers are on your side, changing the law is just a process. It all starts with awareness.