1967 – Women in Britain win access to abortion on NHS
2017 – Women in NI still denied access and criminalised
This October marks the fiftieth year since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed in Britain, yet women in Northern Ireland are still being denied the rights to control their own bodies. Of course, the criminalisation of abortion here has not prevented abortions from being carried out.
Instead, it has only forced women to make desperate decisions; either to travel overseas, resulting in major emotional and financial costs which greatly discriminates against working class women, to face criminalisation for accessing safe abortion pills, or to resort to more dangerous and potentially life-threatening measures.
This needs to stop. It is time that our politicians, across the sectarian divide, are shown just how backwards and out of touch they are with us, the people, and popular opinion. In fact, recent polls have shown that 72% of people in Northern Ireland think abortion should he available if pregnancy is the result of rape and 58% believe that abortion should be completely decriminalised.
None of the main parties support a woman’s right to choose. The DUP and SDLP are entirely opposed to any reform, as are the majority of UUP MLAs. Sinn Féin and most Alliance MLAs oppose abortion rights outside the narrow circumstances of sexual crime and fatal foetal abnormality. While many boast of their ‘pro-life’ credentials, all the main parties are involved in cutting funding for fundamental services and benefits that people rely on to provide a decent life for themselves and their children. What we need is real choice. Women should be able to decide if and when they want children and, if they do, jobs, adequate benefits and free childcare must be guaranteed.
While Jeremy Corbyn’s support extending the right to a “safe, legal abortion” to women in Northern Ireland is to welcomed, we cannot sit by idle and wait on change coming from above. We need a radical, grassroots movement from below, a movement that goes beyond polite lobbying, to demand the full decriminalisation of and equal access to abortion. With the increasing radicalisation of a new generation, resulting in a swing of public opinion, change is possible. So, I would encourage everyone to attend the Rally for Choice on the 14th October, 2pm at Buoy Park (Arts College Square) to show our politicians that we cannot and will not wait any longer for the rights to our own bodies.
By Amy Ferguson