Labour’s new pledge for Northern Ireland could bring hope to thousands

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Jessica Gay

According to the Labour Party manifesto, it would extend abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland if they got into power. This could bring hope to thousands of women suffering under current laws. But not everyone’s happy.

Abortion in Northern Ireland

Abortion in Northern Ireland is an extremely sensitive subject. While in England, Scotland and Wales an abortion can be legally carried out up to the 24-week limit, in Northern Ireland it is only permitted when a woman’s life is at risk. That’s because the 1967 Abortion Act, which established legal abortion, does not apply.

The rules are strict however, with foetal abnormalities, rape and incest often not considered circumstances for abortion.

Women are permitted to go to England to have an abortion but must fund the journey and medical costs themselves. According to Marie Stopes, the leading independent provider of sexual and reproductive health services in the UK, an abortion can cost anywhere from £425 to £1395. A large price to pay for anyone, especially those on a low income.

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While this is technically ‘permitted,’ women who do travel to England often face prosecution and shaming when they return home. For those who can’t afford to travel, many are driven to buy ‘abortion pills’ over the internet. Pills are often unsafe and can cause extreme bleeding. So much so, that many women require a blood transfusion.

Those who do have abortions through ‘alternative’ means can still face life in prison.

Labour plans

But Labour now plans to put an end to this. The leaked draft of Labour’s manifesto states:

Labour will continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will legislate to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland.

Corbyn previously vowed to bring abortion legislation to Northern Ireland during a visit to Belfast in August 2015. But Labour’s announcement has been met with a mixed reaction. At present, the party has no representation in Northern Ireland. The party currently enforces a longstanding ban on fielding candidates in the country’s elections, despite a clear desire for it. This has led many, including Liam Gibson from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, to question its right to interfere with Northern Ireland’s politics.

Speaking of the announcement, Gibson said:

demonstrates a shocking level of utter contempt for the people… We are outraged but so should every single person in Northern Ireland by this high-handed interference. We have the legal and constitutional right to make our own laws on issues such as abortion, which is a matter for the devolved Assembly in Stormont.

Commenting below The Independent’s article on the same issue, ‘stormofdust’ reiterated this sentiment:

But some thoroughly supported the pledge. Cara Sanquest of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign said:

We are very encouraged to see that the Labour Party has included in its draft manifesto a commitment to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland. This is a clear indication that the Labour Party recognises the rights of women in Northern Ireland.

It’s long been a contested issue but one that desperately needs addressing. The fact that hundreds, maybe thousands, of women continue to put their lives at risk every year shows this issue won’t just go away.

Get Involved!

– Find about more about abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

– Find out more about Marie Stopes.

Featured image via Wikimedia

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