SHAG Week: Abortion Rights in the UK

With free access to abortion in the UK, there is really nothing to fight for when it comes to reproductive rights.

Except this is not really the case. In Northern Ireland abortion is illegal even in the case of rape, incest or if the foetus has no chance of survival. Women are left by our government to raise their rapists child, or a child they cannot afford. The right for women to control what happens to their bodies is taken away; more shockingly the right for women to control their own bodies has been made illegal, holding a penalty of life imprisonment in Northern Ireland. Of course this does not stop women in desperate situations from trying to obtain an abortion. As the abortion charity ‘Women on Waves’ states: ‘No one can prevent all abortions. You can only eliminate safe abortions’. This has led to a huge amount of women harming themselves with intent to abort, or attempting clandestine abortions, at risks to their own lives.

Human rights law states abortion should be legal where it is necessary to protect the physical or mental health of the pregnant women and in the cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. Why is the UK directly going against Human Rights law and failing to protect these vulnerable women?

The UK government says it is not their responsibility to address this, but for Stormont to decide since the devolution of power. Stormont says it’s not what the people of Northern Ireland want, however a recent survey shows that 7/10 people in Northern Ireland think an abortion should be available in cases of rape and incest and 3/5 think an abortion should be available when the foetus has no chance of survival.

The most recent case has highlighted the plight of a woman who was carrying a foetus formed with no skull. Under current Northern Irish law, this woman had to carry the baby to term as it would cause no risk to her physical health. She is expected to have scans every two weeks until the foetus dies, at which point she will be induced: A seriously traumatising situation to be forced into. She said: ‘’This is a dead body I’m being forced to carry in Northern Ireland because of this law.” showing clearly the mental anguish a ban on abortion causes for many women in Northern Ireland as 95% of women needing an abortion are stopped from having one.

So we can see that the fight for a woman’s reproductive rights is something we are far from achieving, when so many women in the UK are put at risk by archaic laws. Luckily, there has never been a better time to tell the government that this is unacceptable. Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice is currently reviewing its laws on access to abortion with a public consultation. Let our government know, in the run up to the elections, that the right to free contraceptives, sex education and free accessible abortion is needed everywhere in the UK.