NI Abortion Law: “stuck in the dark ages”

By Catherine Skelton

A break through for many as Northern Ireland reveal that they have reviewed their grounds for women’s rights to pregnancy termination.

With the 1967 Abortion Act not applying to Northern Ireland, termination is only currently allowed if the mother is at serious risk physically or mentally. However, last week the department of justice recognised that adjustments need to be made to the law including cases of serious foetal malformation, rape or incest. But many people are still asking the question “why has it taken this long?”.

The recent review to the law has caused major controversy with people questioning whether these grounds are still outdated for current society. Last week, the department of justice recognised the grounds are indeed “in breach of  human rights laws” and that adjustments need to be made.

Political party Sinn Fein has recently voted to support terminations in limited cases. Political leader, Gerry Adams, spoke to ‘The Guardian’ about how he backs the motion for abortion under certain circumstances.

“Obviously, there are some women who want to continue with their pregnancy to full term and we need to support them, but there are others who feel they are not able to do that and we need to deal with both groups with the absolute maximum of support.” Adams said.

Although this recognition is a major breakthrough for the strict law of Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein are only stretching the rights to  pregnant women with fatal foetal abnormalities. Many people still believe that all women should have full control of their bodies when it comes to termination of pregnancy.

‘Barbaric, inhumane and violates human rights’

Northern Ireland’s laws could not be more different to the rest of the UK, as it is a place where politics and religion often come hand-in-hand. In England, women have up to 24 weeks for termination no matter their circumstances. Compared to the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland’s laws are extremely strict and deemed ‘old fashioned’ by members of the public. Many have taken to twitter using ‘#NIabortion’.

Bernadette Smyth, the director of the Precious Life group, has told BBC Online how she fears Northern Ireland will follow in the footsteps of the UK, with 90% of children with down syndrome being aborted.

“We are concerned that some of the judgement could lead to an opening of the floodgates here where mothers with a pro-diagnosis have access to abortion.”

The largest pro-life group in Northern Ireland the ‘Precious Life’ group are fighting to reduce the amount of women travelling to England for abortions. On their website, Bernadette goes on to say how “every baby should be cherished and protected in their parents’ arms, no matter how brief that time may be.”

Real Life Story

Northern Ireland woman, Sarah Ewart, recently went to the press with her story of how, at 20 weeks pregnant, she was forced to flee to England for an abortion. Her unborn child was diagnosed with anencephaly, a fatal condition. Despite this, it was not proven that the baby’s, nor her own life, were at risk so was not eligible for an abortion in Northern Ireland.   Sarah’s desperation brought light to the issue and caused officials to consider the case. This case raises the question as to whether the Northern Ireland’s law is stuck in the dark ages.

Sarah’s mother, Jane Christie, tells BBC News “It’s not excitement or delight, but just sheer relief”. Although, like Sarah, many women seem to be pleased with the recent breakthrough, it still only allows those with exceptional circumstances to seek a termination and this leaves many women unable to control their own body. It appears no thought has been given for these women.

After the recent breakthrough, NIHRC chief commissioner Les Allamby says “Today’s result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations.”

This is a subject that seems to have sparked fierce debate both in the court room and on social media and despite the recent acknowledgement to women’s rights, it may not be what many were hoping for.


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