Reproductive Rights In Ireland - The Fight Heads Up North

Peter McGoran talks to Elaine Crory of the Alliance For Choice about their efforts to secure bodily autonomy for Northern Irish women.

Following the overwhelming success of the Repeal movement, campaigners are now turning their attention to Northern Ireland, which remains the only part of Ireland and the UK where abortion is illegal. Elaine Crory campaigned heavily during the referendum, and now says that the pressure is on for change up North.

“Alliance For Choice is a sister organisation of the Abortion Rights Campaign,” she explains. “We worked alongside the Together For Yes campaign in the south, so we very much see the referendum result as a joint victory. Now the push is on for change up here as well.”

Elaine has witnessed the steady growth in support for abortion rights in Northern Ireland over the past few years.

“We’ve been involved in many different actions, including organising marches and all Ireland events. We’ve also been involved in supporting people who have been brought to trial here. We’ve stood in solidarity with people when they’ve been arrested or prosecuted for taking illegal abortion pills – which are perfectly safe but illegal. We’ve also contributed to a judicial review that’s ongoing, concerning a woman and her daughter who are being prosecuted for taking these pills.

“We also lobby in both the North and in Westminster, where we’ve found an ally in Labour MP Stella Creasy. She managed to get an amendment onto the Queen’s Speech so that women from Northern Ireland can get abortions free on the NHS in the UK. She’s really been a supporter of ours for a while.”

Elaine has also witnessed modest change at a local political level.

“There was very little willingness to put any legislation through a few years ago. The last time there was a vote on this, in 2016, it was on abortion for fatal foetal abnormalities and in the case of rape. Even that didn’t pass.

“But the political landscape has changed, and if Stormont was sitting now, we might have a better chance of getting legislation through. Our politicians are completely out of step with public opinion. People want a change on this and our politicians are dragging their heels.”

In the wake of the fierce campaigning, north and south, Northern Irish political parties are slowly catching up with the public. Sinn Fein and Alliance have moved towards support, while even parties with a more conservative voter base on this issue, like the SDLP and UUP, are allowing conscience votes on abortion.

“The wind is changing,” says Elaine. “We’re reasonably confident that Stormont, in its current make up, would at least support a few amendments in legislation. We also feel that the pressure coming from down south and across the water is making the UK government very, very uncomfortable.

It’s becoming harder for them to deflect, because they have ultimate jurisdiction on human rights issues and the UN have said that NI law is a violation of human rights. Westminster have the duty to intervene. But, of course, we know why they won’t.”

The Tories have been hesitant about doing anything without the approval of their coalition buddies in the DUP.

“The DUP are the biggest thorn in our sides,” Elaine admits. “They’ve said publicly that they would use the petition of concern to block any legislation. They did it with gay marriage in 2015. Even though MLAs voted narrowly to support gay marriage, the DUP blocked it.”

The DUP are up against a force which is gaining traction every day. With more protests planned (including the successful Processions protest which saw thousands take to the streets in Belfast on June 10), a UK Supreme Court ruling in their favour, and the eyes of the media firmly on Northern Ireland’s archaic laws, change may well be on its way…

Go to alliance4choice.com or @All4Choice on Twitter for more details.

 

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