1861 and All That - updating Northern Ireland's abortion law
Guest blog from Stephanie Weir, a sixth-former from Portadown College who has been on work experience with Amnesty International in Belfast this week.
There is no denying that abortion is a complex issue, but forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy resulting from rape, incest or if the foetus has a fatal abnormality is inhumane.
Northern Ireland is stuck in the past. Our most up to date law regarding abortion is the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which states that a woman is only allowed an abortion under “highly exceptional circumstances”. This is the most restrictive law on abortion in Europe. Its vague, ambiguous nature means it does not permit abortion in cases of rape, incest or if the foetus has a fatal abnormality.
Amnesty International are campaigning for the 154 year old abortion law to be updated immediately and brought up to the bare minimum of international standards. In 2013, 51 abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland, but another 1,000 women travelled from here to Scotland, England and Wales to receive an abortion. 76% of people think it is unacceptable that women have to travel from their home to access abortion treatment.
Not only do women from Northern Ireland have to travel to receive treatment, they also have to pay for the privilege. Costs to fly to England, Scotland or Wales and have an abortion at a private clinic are over £2000; a price they should not have to pay. Being forced into a pregnancy which you do not want is traumatising enough, without the financial stress involved due to out of date laws and regulations.
Public opinion strongly advocates change to this outdated law. Seven out of ten people think abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest, while 60% believe it should be allowed when the foetus has no chance of survival. 72% feel that abortion laws should be the same throughout the UK and it is clear that the people of Northern Ireland are overwhelmingly supportive of new laws being introduced in our country.
Restricting a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her own body is restricting her rights as a human being. It is obscene to demand that someone give birth to their rapist’s child. It is horrendous to force someone to go through with a still birth. So fight with us to bring Northern Ireland’s abortion policy into the 21st Century.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.