NorthNorthern Ireland is not a country for young women. Of the 87 members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in Stormont last week, only 12 voted to allow women the right to choose abortion in accordance with international human rights standards. These are embodied in a smuggling law introduced at NI as institutions in Belfast collapsed with acrimony in 2019, following an inspiring collective effort by local feminists and British Labor MP Stella Creasy. Jubilant, proud, relieved and tearful, the women stood in Stormont with banners that read, simply, “Decriminalized.”
But so far, Stormont has managed to thwart the implementation of the new law, prompting NI’s Commission on Human Rights to launch a legal challenge. On Thursday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis stepped in and is expected next week to direct that the services to which women are legally entitled are actually made available. The Good Friday agreement promised equality: The continued blocking of access to abortion is a depressing indicator of how far we are from achieving it.
Feminists campaigned for decades for the British government to address the fact that women in Northern Ireland were denied the same reproductive rights as women in the rest of the UK. Abortion was practically prohibited. Thousands of women crossed the Irish Sea for layoffs in England. Ultimately, the UN found that the UK government was in breach of its obligations under international human rights law and was forced by the supreme court to act. The law allows abortion in many circumstances, even after 24 weeks in cases where a severe fetal disturbance is diagnosed. The bill that the DUP took to its second stage in Stormont last week seeks to restrict this right, except when the impediment is fatal.
The UN committee for the elimination of discrimination against women (Cedaw) included in its recommendations to the UK “That abortion due to a serious fetal impairment is available to facilitate autonomy and reproductive choice.” He also asked for social and financial support for women who decide to carry these pregnancies to term.
The DUP considers abortion to be one of its “red line” problems. However, a 2020 survey showed that almost 60% of people believe that abortion should be decriminalized, rising to 70% when it comes to fatal cases of fetal abnormalities. Westminster’s interventions should be a matter of private relief for the party, but it will do its best to signal to its most conservative voters (including a significant element of fire and brimstone) that it continues to fight the good fight.
Progressives are used to being horrified by the DUP. The party also last week fought a Expert Panel Calling for sexual orientation and gender equality to be included in relationships and sex education (CSR) in schools, high-profile figures have recently advocated conversion therapy, and the party is against same-sex marriage, which also had to be introduced by Westminster. But there was bewilderment and anger among feminists over Sinn Féin’s behavior on the abortion bill. All 27 MLAs in the party abstained.
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald defended the decision. She said the DUP bill was a “gimmick.” A woman who found herself trapped with a devastating diagnosis and unable to obtain a late-term abortion several years ago told me that the bill felt like just another punishment, and that she was “beyond disappointed” that Sinn Féin did not “go away.” I would have stood up and just said no. ” ”.
The truth is that Sinn Féin could not do this, because he supports the position of the DUP. He does not “trust women” as feminism demands. There is a smile Photography of Mary Lou McDonald and the Deputy Prime Minister of the North, Michelle O’Neill, in 2018, the day the referendum to lift the abortion ban in the Republic was won: they hold a banner that reads: “The North is next! ! ” While now largely pro-choice, Sinn Féin shares the DUP’s position that some abortion rights should be legally restricted. It does not support the UN recommendation on severe fetal harm. Voting with the DUP would have been honest but incredibly embarrassing for him, so abstention was the only option.
McDonald said his party wants “the same regime and legislative framework” to apply to all of Ireland. The Republic’s legislation on the issue of late-term abortion is in line with the DUP and Sinn Féin. It does not work for women because, in practice, the distinction between severe and fatal disability is often impossible to make. Some serious abnormalities are not even detectable until 20 weeks, and women, their families and their doctors should not be forced to make an inevitably painful decision while facing complex legal hurdles. But Sinn Féin will not risk completely alienating those among its core voters who are as conservative as the DUP.
Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann of the Ulster Unionist Party has refused to commission the services except in very limited circumstances, claiming that public consultations and an executive agreement are required to implement a British law. The DUP has vowed to fight the British for this. During the pandemic, women continued to have to cross the Irish Sea to have an abortion in England. As Green Party leader Clare Bailey pointed out, this is hypocrisy. The DUP’s “frenzied” opposition to the Irish Sea border enshrined in the Brexit trade deal was, it noted, allegedly about the supposed diminishing of British character, but when it came to women’s rights, the party insisted that let us stay in “a separate place.”
Both Sinn Féin and the DUP know that the law must comply with the UN recommendations. This could end up in court again, leading to more delays, more torture for women in heartbreaking situations. Brave women bared their souls through trial after trial to obtain these rights. Only 12 of Northern Ireland’s politicians are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism