Northern Irish women sold out on abortion

// 16 October 2008

Amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which could have legalised abortion in Northern Ireland have been shelved, reports the Telegraph.

MPs who put forward the amendments:

…have changed their minds after being privately warned by ministers that with the Stormont executive close to collapse, the move could tip the province’s politicians into withdrawing from negotiations.

The MPs still plan to push ahead with separate plans to make access to abortion easier in the rest of the country by removing the requirement for two doctors’ signatures and allowing nurses to carry out early-stage terminations, however.

The socialist feminist group Feminist Fightback also put out a press release saying that the government may table a programme motion which would prevent the discussion of Northern Irish women’s right to reproductive freedom:

Alice Robson, Reproductive Freedoms Campaigner with Feminist Fightback, said:

“We are deeply dismayed that the Government have failed to challenge politicians in Northern Ireland, 83% of whom are men, who are holding women’s rights to ransom by disingenuously citing the peace process. Given that all major parties in Northern Ireland have anti-choice policies, the argument that this could jeopardise the process does not even make political sense.

“We call on the Government to allow proper democratic process with sufficient time for pro-choice amendments to be discussed. We should be using this historic opportunity to enable all women in the UK to have a genuine right to choose.”

Brenda Callaghan, of the Northern Irish Alliance for Choice Campaign said:

“At least 40 women per week make the heart-breaking decision to travel to England or to Europe, many of them alone, to have an abortion. They receive no follow-up healthcare, and are being treated as second class citizens within the UK. This is very much a class issue as it impacts greatly on working class women who have to find around £2500 for a termination, and it must end now.”

Comments From You

Jackie // Posted 16 October 2008 at 11:01 am

Abortion is opposed by a majority of men and women in NI. It is a pity, but attacking politicians for reflecting the opinions of the electorate is misguided.

This is a campaign that should be fought in Belfast not London.

Laura // Posted 16 October 2008 at 12:26 pm

This is hugely disappointing, to say the least.

Jackie – yes, ideally it should be fought in NI, but the reality is that there is no way of winning there considering the political, religious and gender make-up of NI politicians. At a recent meeting I went to, a NI campaigner for abortion rights made it very clear that changes to the law need to happen in Westminster, and they need to happen fast, before power is devolved to NI and women are condemned to enforced pregnancy, expensive overseas abortions or the risk of illegal ones (apparently women are increasingly accessing abortion pills through the web, with no guarantee as to their effectiveness or safety and without medical guidance).

Hazel // Posted 16 October 2008 at 12:31 pm

Jackie, do you have evidence to back up the claim that abortion is opposed by the majority in Northern Ireland?

I can’t find any opinion polls on this subject published online.


Goretti Horgan // Posted 16 October 2008 at 2:21 pm

Jackie is wrong to say that the majority of people in NI oppose abortion rights. What little evidence that there is suggests the opposite. There were several opinion polls in the 1990s that showed majority support for abortion to be available under the kind of conditions that the 1967 Abortion Act allows. A NI Life and Times Survey (same as British Attitudes Survey) in 1999 on genetic research found only 28% of people opposed to abortion under any circumstances. More importantly, all the main trade unions have policy that came through local NI branches to regional conferences supporting extension of the Abortion Act. Don’t believe the political parties’ propoganda.

About 80,000 women from NI are known to have had abortions in Britain since 1967. Surveys show that each involve, on average, 5 other people in their decision. Do the maths…that’s a lot of people from a population of 1.7 million. Women in NI need abortion rights now…just as we needed them 40 years ago. Please go to our website, find out about our struggle and get onto your MP now. Despite the rumour reported above, there’s still all to fight for.

Claire McCann // Posted 16 October 2008 at 3:33 pm

There is a campaign to have the right to have free and safe abortions extended to women in NI. Currently 40 women a week leave NI to have abortions elsewhere. They cannot access NHS services in the UK for abortions and therefore must pay anything up to £2000. Because of the costs involved many women make this difficult journey alone and face delays in accessing abortions while they try to raise the necessary funds.

It is essential that women in NI are finally given the right to choose whether or not to continue with a pregnancy. In the 41 years since abortion was legalised in the rest of the UK 80,000 women have left NI to access abortions elsewhere. This is a disgrace. Women in NI deserve better.

According to Diane Abbotts office rumours that this amendment has been dropped are untrue and we would urge women in other parts of the UK to write to their MPs and ask them to support the rights of NI women.

There will be a ’40 women protest’ at City Hall in Belfast on Saturday at 2pm and I would urge any of your readers from NI to come along and show your support.

41 years is a long time, but it is not too late for change.

Please support our call for the right to choose.

Rose // Posted 16 October 2008 at 4:26 pm

In my opinion, an abortion is a personal choice, and should not be for voting on. Even if the majority do disagree with abortion (which I question), sod them! An individual should be able to decide for themselves. The services should be made available for those who want them. The government should not restrict the freedoms of its people, the people should control their government.

Some may say its not what they want their tax payers money spent on, but compare the price of childbirth, education, possibly care and psychiatric care, and I think they lose the argument.

Cara // Posted 16 October 2008 at 4:42 pm

Quite, Rose.

Choice means choice *not* to have an abortion, too. Simple: don’t have one.

A lot of anti-choicers forget that.

Even women who claim “I’d never have an abortion” probably would, in some circumstances.

By the way, I’m not saying *I* think abortion is morally wrong. It’s certainly better than women risking their lives having backstreet abortions, or unwanted kids being born.

Goretti Horgan // Posted 16 October 2008 at 5:44 pm

Should have said earlier that you can check out the campaign for abortion rights within NI by going to our website which is

Siún // Posted 17 October 2008 at 2:25 am

Heartbroken and severely pissed off, though not surprised. I remember what a great thing the Good Friday Agreement felt like; if I’d known that ten years later, it would be the basis of a political system that exists entirely to appease a small group of old men, I’d have felt very differently. It scares me that British MPs know so little about us that they believe this crap.

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 19 October 2008 at 3:05 am

Don’t know where the first quote in the piece has come from but nothing has been “shelved” as Goretti points out there is still EVERYTHING to play for. Please don’t be put off – write to your MP now!!

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