Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
On Tuesday 14th May 2019, a so-called “heartbeat bill” was passed in the state of Alabama which will prohibit abortions being performed by a medical professional after 6 weeks into pregnancy, as this is when a foetal heartbeat can be detected. This is a significant change from the previous law which allowed abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy.
Under the new legislation, abortion will be illegal after 6 weeks even in cases of rape, incest or if the foetus is unlikely to survive. This near-total banning of abortions will take effect from January 2020 and doctors could be punished by 99 years in prison if they perform abortions past 6 weeks.
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All over the world over the past week, people have been rightly outraged by both the law itself as well as it having been voted upon by 25 white men. Across social media, many celebrities such as Jameela Jamil and Dawn O’Porter have shared the above photo, angry that this bill was passed by 25 men who will never have to make the painful decision whether to have an abortion or not. Whilst it’s important to point out that trans-men and non-binary people can also fall pregnant, this abortion bill will mostly affect women and therefore the argument again has been raised as to whether men should have a say over women’s bodies. The answer in short is no. Only the person having to make the decision to have an abortion should have a say in what they can do with their body in this circumstance. This bill is not only horrifically controlling and damaging – it further evidences how across the world, men (in particular, white men), continue to fight to control women’s bodies as this is a way of controlling the means of power.
Yet this bill banning abortions isn’t specific to Alabama. Whilst on 25th May 2018 after a long and passionate fight, the Republic of Ireland voted through a national referendum to #repealthe8th and make abortion free and legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a law dating back to 1861 outlaws abortion (except in the circumstance of when the mother’s life or mental health is at extreme risk) in Northern Ireland. This means that pregnant people in the Republic of Ireland no longer have to fly over to the UK to undergo an abortion, or have an unsafe, unlicensed backstreet abortion, or have an unwanted pregnancy. However, just across the border in the 6 counties that make up Northern Ireland, you cannot get an abortion even in cases of rape or incest. This is heartbreaking, traumatising and barbaric. Yet:
Abortion being illegal does not result in no abortions.
Instead, as free, legal and safe abortions are not available, women are forced to either travel to other parts of the UK, undergo unsafe, unauthorized abortions or have an unwanted pregnancy. Making the decision to have an abortion is never easy or without having an emotional effect. However, abortions being illegal forces women in Northern Ireland to undergo further emotional trauma as having an abortion not only can result in travel or risking the mother’s life, but also is coated with shame, secrecy and the threat of prosecution.
For those unable to travel for an abortion, either due to lack of money, being in an abusive relationship or due to disability, this law results in them having to go through with an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, legalising abortion in Northern Ireland isn’t just about allowing women and the LGBT+ community the same human rights that the rest of the UK is granted. Legalising abortion would be a sign of freedom for the whole of Northern Ireland, a sign that misogyny and oppression won’t be tolerated within Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK.
There are many reasons why abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland. Largely, it’s due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) strong opposition to abortion due to “religious” beliefs. Furthermore, due to the Single Transferable Vote electoral system used in Northern Ireland, the government will always be a mix of both unionists and nationalists. This was a stipulation as part of the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland in 1998. However, this has resulted in government in the Northern Irish Assembly having been absent since 9th January 2017. Without a government, there cannot be a vote on the change in abortion laws.
What can I do in the UK?
Just because there’s no government currently sat in Stormont, the home of the Northern Irish Assembly, doesn’t mean Northern Ireland’s abortion law cannot be changed. MPs can vote to change the law from Westminster – consequently, you can pressurise your local MP to both support legalising abortion but also to make this an issue at the forefront of their mind. With the Republic of Ireland repealing the Eighth Amendment and therefore legalising abortion, Northern Ireland is now the only place in the UK and Ireland without legal, safe abortions. MPs in Westminster have been reluctant to vote on matters in Northern Ireland due to the unstable political history. However, remind your MP that they should care more about everyone being granted basic human rights.
Click here to find your local MP to email to ask them to support decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland. Follow @all4choice on Instagram to learn more about how you can support the fight for free, legal and safe abortions in Northern Ireland. Lastly, spread the word as much as you can. Whilst sharing a post on social media may not feel like doing much, the reach of every individual’s social media is endless. By sharing posts relating to Northern Ireland’s right to legal abortions, you’re not only pledging your solidarity but also may end up educating someone on your timeline.