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Abortion in Northern Ireland.

(24 Posts)
NacMacFeegle Mon 15-Aug-11 17:34:56

Something I've been thinking about recently, due to a friend having an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, and having to keep it in large part due to being unable to afford the trip to England she would have needed to take.

Why is there not more of an outcry? Women in Northern Ireland are denied the right to bodily autonomy that the rest of the country take for granted.

To end an unplanned pregnancy in NI, you have to demonstrate that you are in immediate, mortal danger. Or else find at least £450 for the procedure, plus travel, accommodation, childcare etc etc to get to a clinic across the water.

Apparently around 50% of gynaecologists in NI are opposed to abortion. To which I would say, that's fine, don't have one then.

What do you think? Is there a way to make it more socially acceptable in this very religious, very entrenched society?

About the only positive thing I can see about the law is that the pro-lifers are cross community - lots of people from all sides of the sectarian divide in that club!

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 17:48:18

I'm constantly amazed at how much the Catholic Church gets away with. The child abuse scandal alone should have been enough to sink this horrible institution.

I read an article last year about how a 9 year old rape victim in South America was forced to have the rapist's child by the church. I'll try and find the link.

(PS This is by no means an attack on Catholics themselves!!)

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 17:50:11

Ok, I hadn't remembered this entirely correctly, but here's the link.


NacMacFeegle Mon 15-Aug-11 17:50:36

Jenny, it isn't just the Roman Catholic church that are opposed - most of the Evangelical Protestants are also vocally opposed.

KRIKRI Mon 15-Aug-11 17:57:09

Yes, very depressing this. I think the Ulster Family Planning Association clinic I went to for my first contraceptive device (as a student, way back then . . . ) was attacked, despite obviously providing no abortion services at all.

It's the one issue you'll get devout Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants to stand shoulder to shoulder on.

NMF, I'm a bit out of touch on this, but are there any moves towards changing the situ there? Are attitudes shifting at all?

NacMacFeegle Mon 15-Aug-11 18:03:23

Not as far as I can tell - have seen plenty of pro-life stuff, including the sickening sight of a gang of mostly men, priests and teenagers waving lurid technicolour posters of aborted babies in the main street of town. But nothing the other way - it's Not Talked About. I'm rural though, maybe the cities is where it will start?

There was a motion some time ago to extend the 1967 act to here, Alliance supported it, DUP/ SF against. Of course.

irishbird Mon 15-Aug-11 18:05:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

KRIKRI Mon 15-Aug-11 18:20:48

Sorry to hear that NMF, and not surprised by your experience, irishbird. I don't think many people England, Scotland and Wales are even aware that the Abortion Act doesn't extend to Northern Ireland. They may be aware that the Republic "exports" this problem "across the water," but not that Northern Ireland does as well.

TanteAC Mon 15-Aug-11 19:00:09

I have always watched this area with interest as a representation of the unique legal and cultural position of Northern Ireland. <resists urge to waffle on, a Herculean effort smile>

This was debated at an Irish studies conference a couple of years ago (in England) which shows that it is discussed and commented on, reassuringly.

Ironically, it is because of the ease of travel between Ireland (Rep and Northern) and the rest of the UK that abortion has been allowed to remain illegal. Not so long ago (I will find the exact year, sorry) it was the subject of a referendum in the Republic, and the vote was still 'no'.

Obviously there is the huge influence of the church, how well the referendum was promoted to younger voters, etc to be considered and debated, but there is a school of thought that says (in addition to these factors) that there has never been an urgency for people to be up in arms about legalising abortion because it is so easy (no passport, cheap and frequent flights and ferries, most people have friends or family to stay with, etc) to go to the rest of the UK for an abortion. Given that a lot of people don't have an abortion in their own town, etc I can see how this is viewed. Plus campaigning FOR abortion is not as easy as campaigning against, especially if you live in a small community, have been brought up in a certain religious belief, etc.

I often wonder if suddenly there was some way of preventing people from privately leaving Ireland for abortions, how quickly a drive for legalising abortion would be up and running. The fertile generations of Ireland (north and south) are nowhere near as ruled by theocracy as the previous generations.

Really interesting topic, OP

StewieGriffinsMom Mon 15-Aug-11 19:01:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

organicgardener Mon 15-Aug-11 19:02:15

Northern Ireland should have the same laws governing abortion as the rest of the UK.

It's a Womans body it should be a Womans choice.

TanteAC Mon 15-Aug-11 19:06:00

PS When I say 'easy', obviously it is expensive, but not prohibitively so given how much people would be willing to spend on such a big issue. I reckon the government and representatives just rely on this attitude, tbh

Sorry for really waffling, confusing posts! Long day grin

VictorGollancz Mon 15-Aug-11 19:06:42

I second SGM's point about Nadine Dorries. She is rapidly gaining ground, and David Cameron has spoken in broad agreement with her campaign to lower the time limit. If I recall correctly, he voted FOR a reduction in 2008, the time that the proposal failed.

We must be more watchful than ever, and don't let them think that women don't care much about this issue. The tiniest amount of digging on Google reveals Dorries merrily lying about each and every single thing to do with reproductive choice, from abortion providers profiting to 'Post-Abortion Syndrome' to a majority of women in the UK supporting a reduction in the limit. All lies, and if we don't speak up to tell Parliament it's all lies, she'll get away with it.

I didn't know that the abortion laws didn't stretch to NI until I came on MN. I was shocked.

Victor and SGM are right about people trying to erode the abortion rights we currently have. Hasn't there been some committee/task force recently set up by the government with Life on it, to look at the "issues" surrounding abortion (issues in inverted commas as I don't actually think that there is anything wrong with the law at the moment - just it should stretch to NI, obviously).

myfriendflicka Tue 16-Aug-11 08:04:45


How great to find this thread and others like it - I have horrified by Dorries and the other stealthy attempts by the Tories to limit/make more difficult/push out groups with a history of giving proper access for women to abortion/contraception.

Agree strongly Victor Gollancz.

<Goes off to email MP>.

iskra Tue 16-Aug-11 08:40:28

Just want to plug the Abortion Support Network - they help women from NI & ROI fund travel & procedures on the mainland. They are the only organisation offering practical support rather than campaigning.

mrsdrb Fri 26-Aug-11 20:55:55

Hi, I am a member of a pro-choice group called Alliance for Choice, we have groups in derry/ belfast and lisburn. I am involved in the Belfast one. The group has been going for a long time but has been recently active in the last 3 years, initially encouraged by the possibility in November 2008 of an amendment to the Embryology Bill which would extend the 1967 abortion act to NI. The amendment never saw the light of day, apparently to do so would have caused difficulties for the peace process (Gordon Brown advised E Thornberry MP of this and got her to withdraw her amendment, Diane Abbott then added any amendment but it was never heard).

Abortion remains a hugely taboo issue in NI so we work to encourage women to talk about it. This year we got a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRFT) for £5,000 to pilot a training programme for 5 women's groups. The project was a great success, showing the dire need for informed debate on the issue. We have applied for another grant, which JRRFT has agreed to fund 50% of, so we are busy applying for other sources now. we hope this funding will allow people to challenge the policy/law makers to reconsider the legislation and allow us to train more groups.

With partner organisations we have raised the issue with CEDAW/ United Nations (Committee for Discrimination Against Women). Key facts we have raised include the following:

-around 20 women a week travel to other parts of the UK and further afield to access abortion
-abortion in NI is permitted only if the mothers life is in danger, if she has been raped/ victim of incest it is not permitted
- Women who wish to have an abortion have to pay up to £2,000 to access it in GB. For women on low incomes this cost can have serious implications
- Women from Northern Ireland are not entitled to a free NHS abortion in England, Scotland/ Wales despite being UK citizens and paying the same taxes as women from the rest of the UK.
- Women and staff who work in this area are continually harassed and intimidated by anti-abortion campaigners.

Through our work we have heard of cases where e.g. a woman has had to borrow money from paramilitaries to pay for an abortion, with extortionate repayment terms. Women who travel also have to deal with the deception, constructing cover stories as to why they are travelling. Groups like the Abortion Support Network provide invaluable support to those in dire need.

Aside from our grant we exist on tiny budget (circa £300 per year), but what we lack in finances we make up for in effort and commitment! In conjunction with Belfast Feminist Network we held a femfest in March, with drama, discussion nights and a quiz. We lobby political parties, hold seminars and host film nights. We have a group on facebook if anyone wants more info.

We have also been watching carefully the views of Dorries and echoe concerns of our sisters here and elsewhere that such views are totally unacceptable. Our bodies/ our lives/ our right to decide!

sorry for long post!!!


LineRunner Sun 28-Aug-11 00:14:29

Mrsdrb, Thank you for posting all that information. It's shameful that women of all religions - catholic, protestant, methodist - are still having to ship or fly themselves across the Irish Sea from NI (and Eire and the Isle of Man) for private abortions. This means that abortions are carried out later than they need to be, and are more complicated than they need to be.

StewieGriffinsMom Sun 28-Aug-11 08:39:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

puzzlesum Sun 28-Aug-11 09:00:20

I genuinely don't understand the legislative basis for a particular medical procedure to be illegal in one part of a nation but legal in others.

cocolepew Sun 28-Aug-11 09:43:42

There are very often ati-abortion groups in the centre of Belfast on a Saturday. Their stall is covered in pictures of dead babies, limbs, and a lot of blood. I have an argument with them every bloody time I see them, the images are very disturbing to children, and others. There was even a picture of an "aborted fetus" on a back of a citybus. My husband was stuck behind it for 15 minutes, 2 weeks after I had a late miscarriage.

We both have contacted the council and Mayors office only to get no reply.

mrsdrb Sun 28-Aug-11 16:12:03

the anti abortion lobby also carry out 'prayer vigils' outside fpa offices at times when they know women are attending counselling sessions. I've been at meetings at the fpa when this occurs and the anti-abortion brigade hassle any woman of childbearing age entering the building. The police are keeping an eye on the issue but have taken little action. I find it very intimidating when I encounter them as despite being told "I don't want to talk to you" they persist in trying to engage you, so I can only guess if you are feeling vulnerable how the hassle impacts on you. As for the bus image - its just horrific.

On the issue of legislation yes its amazing that the discrepancies occur. The most relevant legislation in NI is the offences against the person act from 1861. Along with the fpa we are planning a campaign to highlight the 150th anniversary of the Act in November 2011. We are hoping there will be events in London and Dublin and Belfast at the same time (the Irish legislation is also based on the 1861 Act).

somewherewest Thu 01-Sep-11 14:11:09

To be fair, abortion laws are different in the two Irish jurisdictions because the majority of people want them to be different (the Irish Republic has had innumerable referendums on the subject). In other words its just democracy at work. Northern Ireland is treated separately on all sorts of other issues as well (I think one of the UK's strengths is that it allows this kind of flexibility). Its also worth noting two other things. Firstly, a lot of Irish women are very anti-abortion. Secondly, attitudes aren't necessarily tied to traditionalist Christianity. Even my generation of Irish people (born early 80s) tend to be quite conservative on the issue by UK standards, and we are also usually quite secular. Even in my militant atheist days I wouldn't have been terribly liberal on the issue. People will no doubt respond with the horribly patronising 'false conciousness' argument (ie many Irishwomen have been brainwashed by The Patriarchy), but I don't think that gets us anywhere. If British pro-choicers can claim that many Irish people are culturally conditioned to be anti-abortion, then Irish pro-lifers can argue (with equal validity) that many Brits are culturally conditioned to be liberal on the issue. After all a whole British generation has grown up in an atmosphere where it is pretty much taboo to question legalised abortion at all. And has for all the 'shock/horror' at anti-abortion groups holding protests etc, I don't see the issue once they keep within the law.

mrsdrb Sun 04-Sep-11 19:23:33

Actually in NI the issue over attitudes to abortion isn't so negative amongst the general population, a survey in 2008 found majority thought abortion should be provided in circumstances such as rape/ incest. As for the anti-abortion protests their promotional material contains a lot of misinformation - e.g. having an abortion increases women's risk of breast cancer; and the images they use are very inflammatory.

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