Thursday, 9 October 2008

Extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland

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As the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill continues its passage through Parliament, the Labour MP Diane Abbot has tabled an amendment that would extend the provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Currently, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland in exceptional circumstances (i.e. it's practically illegal) and every year thousands of women face the emotional and financial cost of travelling to Britain for private abortion (since 1967, over 80,000 women have done this). As Liberal Conspiracy reports, the same amendment was blocked by the government earlier this year as Gordon Brown didn't wish to alienate the nine Democratic Unionist Party MPs who offered their support to the controversial vote on 42-day detention for terror suspects.

Yesterday, forty Northern Irish women representing the Alliance for Choice group met Abbott at Westminster to lobby MPs to support the amendment. As one might expect given the sectarian character of Northern Irish parties, the political establishment is strongly opposed to extending abortion rights, but pro-choice groups argue that this does not adequately represent the wishes of the country's women. Women seeking abortion, as well as those lobbying for abortion rights, can be subject to harassment and intimidation from opponents. As an Alliance for Choice spokesperson told a meeting on Tuesday, the effects of the current laws can be devastating:
"The poverty of some women in NI also impacts on the numbers of late abortions in Britain. The time it takes some women to find enough money to have an abortion means that women from here are three times more likely than British women to have abortions after 20 weeks. However, thousands of others are forced to continue pregnancies they find intolerable. This includes women pregnant as a result of rape and sexual abuse"
The amendment is sure to face stiff opposition, and pro-choice groups are encouraging people to write to their MPs and sign petitions. Details are at the end of the Liberal Conspiracy article.

[Thanks Padraig]


Jeffrey Peel said...

I very much support the extension of the Abortion Act to NI and believe that it should be a Westminster issue and not a devolved one.

Jeff Peel