Stand up for women’s rights in Northern Ireland!

11:47 am - October 8th 2008

by Laurie Penny    

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For months, Northern Irish MPS have been holding the government to ransom over abortion rights, using the bodies of their female constituents as bargaining chips over the 42 days legislation and claiming that if moves are made to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland, the peace process will be threatened. ‘It’s time to call their bluff,’ said Diane Abbott MP at a rally in Parliament last night.

Diane Abbott has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, due for its third reading on the 22nd of October, calling for an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. This is precisely the same amendment that Emily Thornberry MP was forced to withdraw back in May, when Gordon Brown assured her that the move would be seen as a slap in the face by the nine DUP members who swung the 42 days vote in the Prime Minister’s favour. Today at noon, forty women from Northern Ireland will hand into Number Ten a letter signed by the leaders of civil society in NI supporting abortion rights for women in the region.

The women want to meet as many MPs as possible whilst they are in London, in order to counter some of the anti-abortion propaganda which is doing the rounds in Westminster. MPs are, for instance, being told by the government that they should not adopt an ‘imperialist’ or ‘colonialist’ attitude to NI and impose something on the region.

‘But there is no question of Westminster ‘imposing’ abortion on NI; it is already a reality of life here,’ said Alliance for Choice spokesperson Goretti Horgan. ‘Each year thousands of Northern Irish women travel to Britain and Europe and pay for private abortions. For women living on low incomes, getting the money together on time is impossible. An unwanted pregnancy can leave some women in a desperate situation – which is why we now find some women turning to the internet to buy the abortion pill.’ Women who have taken black-market abortion pills often present at hospitals in Northern Ireland with terrible bleeding – and if the reason for their symptoms is discovered, some could face a life sentence once they recover, last night’s audience was told.

‘The poverty of some women in NI also impacts on the numbers of late abortions in Britain,’ said Ms Horgan. ‘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’, says the Alliance for Choice spokesperson.

‘If you’re afraid of falling into some colonialist mindset by overriding Stormont, please, forget it – we need our human rights,’ said Dr Audrey Simpson of the Northern Irish Family Planning Association, reminding those present that when the Bill was last on the table in May, Northern Irish MPs had ‘no qualms’ in voting to cut the time limit from 24 to 12 weeks for English, Welsh and Scottish women.

Whilst a majority of Stormont MPs are vehemently anti-choice, they do not represent the needs and opinions of their constituents on this matter. Northern Irish MPs are elected along sectarian lines, with a simple choice between orange and green candidates. Since 1967 over 80,000 women have travelled to England to have abortions, but there’s one big reason why more pro-choice women, doctors and lawyers aren’t speaking out, according to Annie Campbell of the Alliance for Choice: ‘they are afraid’.

Ms Campbell explained how women suspected of seeking abortions in Northern Ireland have been the victims of appalling abuse, adding that anyone vocally supporting the pro-choice cause in Northern Ireland can expect significant harrassment. ‘This is a global war and, as usual, women’s bodies are on the frontline,’ she said. She urged all the women and men present at the meeting to lobby their MPs, asking them to speak out for Northern Irish women ‘because at the moment, we can’t speak for ourselves. There’s no use in us lobbying our MPs for the right to legal abortion – for all we know we’ll just be put on a hit-list,’ she said.

Dr Evan Harris MP, who has been instrumental in furthering the pro-choice cause in parliament, repeated the call for pro-choice citizens to lobby their MPs and urge them to vote for the positive amendments on the bill, reminding those present that ‘this is a once in a generation opportunity to modernise the law’.

It’s also the last chance Northern Irish women will have to fight for their rights to legal abortion for a very long time: soon, criminal law will be devolved to Stormont, after which ‘we won’t see positive change for generations,’ said Annie Campbell.

If you agree that it is unacceptable that a group of women in the UK are still treated as second-class citizens and denied reproductive self-determination, here’s how you can get involved –


1)Write to your MP, asking him or her to vote in support of the amendment extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. ‘We get so much hate-mail from pro-life groups that every supportive letter we receive makes a genuine difference’, said Katy Clark MP last night.

2) Sign the online FPA petition in support of extending rights to Northern Ireland, here.

3)Come along to the protest organised by Abortion Rights UK ahead of the crucial vote – details will be posted here as soon as they appear and will also be available at Abortion Rights.

4)Add your voice to the Pro-Choice Majority website, containing testimonials of delays and obstruction to the process of medical abortion by representatives of the 80% of the UK who support a woman’s right to choose.

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Reader comments

One way to settle whether this is colonialist or not – give NI a referendum.

That would also do wonders for the peace process, both the Catholics and the Presbyterians would be able to unite in damning people planning to vote “Yes” to hell…

Limit abortion and crime and poverty go up. Unwanted children do not have happy lives.

4. Barry Benfield

Women who have not been raped and then go and have abortions are extremely selfish. They are killing for convenience, there’s no getting away from that. I would sooner have been born than not, even if it meant going into a childrens’ home.


Haha! I’d sooner have been born than not? I’d sooner be rich than poor too! But you know what, if I was poor at least I’d have the ability to know I wasn’t rich.

6. Laurie Penny

Barry: your logic is barmy.

I take issue with your (and, indeed, the near-universal) parroting of the line ‘if a woman hasn’t been raped then it’s not okay’. Why is it any more okay to end a pregnancy if a woman has been raped? I’m sorry, but either you believe that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception or you don’t – if you do, then a woman’s ‘being selfish’ even if she HAS been raped. Murder’s still murder even if you do it with virgin, unsullied hands. But your assertion that it’s okay if she’s been raped tells us what the real issue is here.

The real issue is women daring to have sex *at all*. What you really mind isn’t people killing the poor widdle embryos, it’s women daring to exercise sexual self-determination and getting away with it. It’s the old pro-life line: make them suffer the consequences of sin. Of course, if a woman’s been raped then it wasn’t her fault she had sex, so it must be okay!

I find that piece of rhetoric wildly hypocrytical. If you believe it’s okay for a woman to terminate a pregnancy when she’s been raped – i.e when she has a ‘good excuse’ for being knocked up or is ‘deserving’ – you must believe it’s okay for some pregnancies to be terminated. In the pro-choice movement, we believe that nobody else should get to decide whether or not a woman ‘deserves’ an abortion. We believe it should be her decision alone, not someone else’s blind moral call.

Ironic that you’re a waste of sperm and egg, isn’t it Barry?

The ‘unless the woman was raped’ argument is utterly bizarre. “Foetuses are babies, so it’s wrong to kill them, unless their dad was a criminal” is about as twisted a moral standpoint as you can have…

Yes, the right to choose should be extended all women, in the UK and beyond.

(The Pro-Choice Majority website link did not work.)

(The Pro-Choice Majority website link did not work.)

It does now. Thanks.

Im heavily Pro-Choice. As in, I am for women having the right to ‘choose’ between having sex or not.

People having sex are perfectly aware that sex can lead to pregnancy. So if you cant accept the responsibility even the slightest bit of a possible pregnancy, than you know what, dont have sex.

If you use any kind of preventive measures, such as condoms, and still cant accept that .01% of a possible pregnancy, than you know what? Dont have sex.
Some people just cant accept that chance that an airplane may crash, no matter how small the chance is; they dont step on airplanes. If you cant accept the possibilities, dont follow through with the actions.

Im also Pro-Choice on the matters of going to jail after doing 8 lines of coke, downing a fifth of scotch, and driving through a crowded sidewalk. If Im not happy with the consequences of my actions, Id like the CHOICE of not facing them.

And there, you have the heart of the ‘Pro-Choice’ movement. With each generation, you see it more and more. People want to do whatever they want, and not have to face any consequences. So, what do they do? To get out of the consequences of their actions, they fight and fight and say their “choice” has been taken away. All the while, they do have a choice. No one said they couldnt have sex. They are allowed to. But if a well-known consequence occurs due to the choice, face it.

C- And there you have proved our point once again.

It’s not about the baaaaaaybeeez. It’s about the fact that you want to punish women for *gasp* having sex.

I dont punish people. I dont want to punish people. I believe that if people make a choice, they should accept the consequences. I know, its crazy in this day and age; but thats what I believe. Im not an anti-sex, anti-pleasure, religious fanatic. I think a huge help would be the push for contraceptives being more available for students and people. Im not against the morning after pill either. But I personally feel it should only be used in more extreme cases, such as rape. However, Im open to argument and debate on that that I am not set on that.

I dont think that the unborn child should be aborted because a person made a choice, and then dont want to face the consequence of that choice.

I do believe that abortion is wrong also because theres no question in my mind or the scientific community about whether the unborn child is alive; the scientific standards that determine whether something is living: processes occur in the body, respond to stimulii, take in materials, grow and develop; all occur with a fetus. People say stupid things like “well we celebrate birthdays”….but thats a weak argument, as plenty of cultures celebrate conception days.
The real debate at hand is whether it is alright to terminate a parasitic being (parasitic in that in his fully dependent upon another being to live). In which case, if it were, some could argue that you could abort a baby after it has been born. It sounds like a am taking this too far, but I have read of people who believe that should be allowed, for that exact argument.

This also brings me to my next point; everyone only considers the now. not the long term, not the big picture. One must consider the future outcomes of allowing abortions. First, there was abortions. And because that became more ok and common to do it, then there were partial birth abortions (luckily these are no longer allowed). Im not sure if youre familiar with the process, but first they turn the baby around, and birth it up to its shoulders. Then they stick a vacuum needle into the back of the babys skull and suck its brain out. And hey, why not; if one can argue that its alright to abort an unborn baby, it can be argued again that its perfectly ok to abort the baby when its partially unborn.
But people arent allowed to do that anymore, so are we going to push for those? If you are pro-choice, then why not for people right to the choice of sucking their partially unborn childs brain out of their head?
What about a man’s choice? He has no say in whether or not the woman gets an abortion. He participated in the creation of that baby inside her. But he has no say. He has no “choice”. If your pro-choice, why not fight for the mans right to the choice as well? Sure, you can say that its the woman’s burden to carry the baby; but like I said, it is half his doing.
If you arent fighting for these choices as well, then I cant believe that its truly about being ‘pro-choice’. If you dont believe in the right to those choices, then its pretty much like I said; people wanting to do what they want without facing consequences; more so than it is a noble cause of fighting for freedom of choice in America.

Allowing one thing opens the door for tons of other possibilities. You can say “well, we create laws so these things dont go too far”….but down the line after years and years, after young generations become accustom to something, that next step doesnt seem “too far” or “crossing the line” for them. So I ask you, where do you personally feel that line is? If you think that a law should be in place to prevent partial birth abortions, or prevent abortions at a certain point in the pregnancy, your asking people to be responsible enough to decide early on if they want to have an abortion or not. Thats understandable and fair. Im only asking people to be responsible as well. The only difference is I am asking them to be responsible even earlier than that. Be responsible when making that first choice. Recognize the possibilities, and decide if you can accept the pregnancy if it happens. If you cant, do everything you cant in terms of prevention. If you still can accept the tiny chance of something happening, dont do it. And if you do get pregnant, despite all that you do, recognize that that was a possibility, and accept the pregnancy; and keep the child or put it up for adoption. I know it sounds like alot to ask of a person. Maybe it is; but it takes a mature person to accept the pregnancy; and ideally, a mature person to decide to have sex.

Like I said; if you feel there should be restrictions on abortion, like partial-birth and late pregnancy abortions, your asking people to take responsibility of the situation. Responsible decision-making so that those types of abortions arent an option; that such choices of such terminations arent faced. Thats all Im asking for; personal responsibility…just a little bit more of it.

C- Get off my side.

C –

You clearly have been reading far too much anti-choice propaganda about termination procedures, as demonstrated by your parroting of the ‘partial birth abortion’ line. You are, I presume, talking about ID&X, the procedure outlawed over in the States in 2006?

The term ‘partial birth’ has been attached to ID&X as a successful emotive strategy to imply that there is in fact a ‘birth’ of a viable infant involved in the procedure. This is not actually the case; it’s a second term procedure that is carried out after early-term methods are not longer viable, but usually before the foetus is viable, and differs from the other commonly used second term procedure (Dilation and Extraction) in that the latter involves destruction of the foetus in the womb. This is much more dangerous to the mother, and yet is still legal in the States because it hasn’t been given an emotive name.

To repeat: it’s not illegal to have a second trimester termination in the States, but it is illegal to have the safer method, and only because people like you did and continue to spread misinformation about what the procedure involves.

(I wrote about this ban when it was introduced here. There are further links there if you’re interested in finding out more.)

Old chestnut again not this !

What no one ever seems to adress in this debate is defining the bizarre notion of “womens rights” as if being female confers a rights based status that no one else deserves.
If I were to assert that women who have children should stay at home at home and look after then I’d be slated as a sexist/misogynist/dinasour. At the same time if I dare to have an opinion on abortion and whether or not women (including presumably my own partner) should have the “right” to murder my offspring then I’m opressing women. In other words womens rights are relative, selective and invoked capriciously rather than consitently. Why should women get what they want in all scenarios ? Men don’t. Nature either intended you to be mothers (and the evidence for that is fairly overwhelming) – in which case have as many abortions as you want but accept responsibility for them, financially and socially, and for the children you do give birth to, or it didn’t, in which case stop demanding automatic custody and financial assistance from your past shags and the taxpayer. It is not about controlling women – do you really imagine anyone gives a toss about your sex life ? – it’s about protecting the unborn child who has no one else to protect its interest, not even it’s own mother in many cases. The equating of a womens right to have free sex and the right to murder the living consequences really makes me want to vomit. And no I’m not religious.

You don’t have to be religious to be a friggin’ moron.

“The equating of a womens right to have free sex and the right to murder the living consequences really makes me want to vomit”

awww. Would you like someone to hold your hair back for you, delicate thing?

“as if being female confers a rights based status that no one else deserves.”

That is because women are the only gender on the planet who have ovaries and are therefore are capable of becoming preggers. I mean, if men want to go out and campaign to be allowed to have abortions, that would be great. It would also be rather stupid.

sovietkiki- inorite? Can you imagine the tantrum that would be thrown if matt’s partner asked him to get a vasectomy?


Well perhaps that could be the agreement, then! The woman isn’t allowed an abortion as long as her man gets his nuts chopped off. Sounds fair, doesn’t it? Also, she should be allowed to actively participate. It could be a fun day out for everyone involved! Very relationship-building. Very New-Age-meets-the-Victorians.

Victorian eh? If he gets clockwork nuts, is that Steampunk?

If nothing else, it would be damn uncomfortable! 😀

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