Eamonn McCann: The North and Abortion

A recent case once again highlights NI's repressive abortion laws. Plus an inside view on the dramatic upheavals at Stormont.

The hypocrisy of the Northern authorities in relation to abortion was on vivid display last month in court proceedings arising from the prosecution of a Belfast woman for having helped her 15-year-old daughter obtain abortion pills online.

The case came to the attention of prosecutors when a doctor in the practice where the girl sought advice after taking the abortion pills reported her to the police. Had he not done so, he, too, would have been liable for prosecution, and a sentence of up to 10 years.

This is the latest in a series of prosecutions of women for assisting in the procurement of abortions. But there has been no prosecution of Diana King, 71, Colette Devlin, 68 or Kitty O’Kane, 69, who last May handed themselves in to the PSNI in Derry, tendering statements confessing to having taken delivery of abortion pills for passing to women too afraid to have them delivered to their houses.

Diana, Colette and Kitty are solid citizens well-able to argue their case. They defended their initiative very capably in a Hot Press feature. They don’t conform to the stereotype of “vulnerable”, “tragic” women, victims of cruel circumstance. Which is why they haven’t been charged.

It is precisely vulnerable and even tragic women who are targeted and hauled into court. The prosecution authorities are hypocrites. They know that Diana, Colette and Kitty would stand their ground, reject anonymity and make as much noise as they could about the criminalisation of women for exercising their rights. So they avert their eyes and ignore their own laws.

Not just hypocrites but cowards, too.

______________

It’s dreadful weather to be pounding the streets pleading for votes, but needs must. The stakes are scary. The outcome of the March 2 poll could be crucial in shaping the North for decades to come.

So, just seven months after the election which brought me a seat in the Stormont Assembly, we must once more let loose the dogs of political war. Or, to put it another way, climb telegraph poles to affix posters with big pictures of myself, blown and buffeted by the winter’s gale, frozen fingers all afumble, ears fringed with ice.

I came sixth last May in a six-seat constituency. This time Foyle is a five-seater. Already I am in receipt of commiserations.

But hey, this isn’t meant to be some sad song.

The Assembly at Stormont collapsed after opposition parties forced an inquiry into the “Renewal Heating Incentive” scheme, designed to encourage businesses to generate heat using wood rather than fossil fuels. Good idea. Particularly for quick-off-the-mark merchants who installed wood-chip boilers as soon as they were tipped off by Ministers, MLAs and DUP party workers that this marvellous initiative would pay out £1.60 for every pound invested. Money for old rope.

Cute folk installed boilers blasting out heat 24/7 in barns with no insulation. People shivered in their homes while empty sheds were kept cosy.

The key moment came when the DUP’s Coalition partners, Sinn Fein, felt the heat of anger from their own voters and joined the rest of us in telling the DUP that enough was enough when it came to corruption. Now I am being told from all sides that the election will make no difference. Not only will I be out on my ear, the DUP and SF will return with strength undiminished to bring us all the way back to square one. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Sitting in the Stormont chamber in the stuttering last days of the Assembly, I was struck by the Coalition partners’ reversion to the hoary language of Orange versus Green. All this outrage over RHI has been got up by enemies of the union, insisted DUP boss Arlene Foster, to weaken the link with Britain. Vote SF to ram it into unionists that they are not top dogs any more, came the response.

A couple of months earlier, they had been gazing doe-eyed at one another. Now they were looking daggers. Tribalism appeared to have triumphed again.

But hope for the future still flickers brightly, reposing in the possibility that, this time, the people will vote for a future unshadowed by the past, carve tomorrow from sunshine. I’ll let you know.

________________

More on the exquisite aptness of much of the writing on Coronation Street. Steve (Simon Gregson) is in the Chapel of Rest, alongside Michelle (Kym Marsh), saying goodbye to their stillborn son Ruairi, tiny white bundle in a tiny white coffin, set on a dais festooned with lilies.

“We were going to have such a good time together, you and me, little man – go to County, play football, climb trees, all the things your sister hates. Me and your uncle Andy used to climb a tree when we were kids. It seemed so big then, but it was only small really. Dad would stand at the bottom and say ‘Jump and I’ll catch you’, and he always did, in his strong arms. And that’s what I was going to do with you. Every time you jumped, I was going to catch you, keep you safe. ‘Cos that’s what Dads do, isn’t it? Keep you safe. I’m so sorry I couldn’t Ruairi.”

________________

Thirty-five Palestinian children were killed in 2016 by Israeli soldiers, police and armed settlers. For their names and photographs, see electronicfada.net. Next time anybody tells you that the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel is biased, wrong-headed or otherwise misconceived, send them the link.

 

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