Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK and Ireland where abortion is almost completely illegal. This is a phrase you will have heard activists say countless times over the last year since the eighth amendment was successfully repealed. There is no underestimating how huge the impact has been in Northern Ireland - and now there’s no letting either the Irish or British governments forget it.
On visits to my parents in Ireland in December 2017 and February 2018, I had been concerned by the overwhelmingly anti-choice coverage in one of the local papers. In the name of taking positive action to improve this situation, my partner and I volunteered to carry out a local media campaign, to send press releases and photos of the London parade entry to newspapers in all 32 counties in Ireland.
However the system is far from perfect. Between January and March 2019, more than 126 Irish people travelled to the UK for an abortion. The Abortion Support Network is still receiving calls from Irish clients. Many of these people are over 12 weeks pregnant, but some - despite being under 12 weeks gestation - are travelling due to difficulties accessing services in the Republic. There remain those who cannot travel and abortion pills continue to be ordered online. The new law is clearly not working for everyone.
Faces lit up with hope, anxiety, and creeping elation as the results were called out constituency by constituency, confirming the exit polls from the night before. A result that everyone hoped for but had hardly dared to imagine over the months and weeks leading up to this day. The Irish people had voted by a landslide for YES to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution of Ireland.
It’s extremely disappointing that despite the SNP’s progressive stance on reproductive health, they have chosen to become bystanders on the issue of abortion for the women living in Northern Ireland. Citing an unwillingness to become involved in ‘devolved’ matters, they are letting their staunch independence framework for working in Westminster fog the reality that women’s human rights are continuing to be violated.
Did you book a last minute flight or surprise your family? Did you hitch-hike to the airport or come home weeks ahead of the vote? Did you meet your Gran for a chat the night before - did you change each others' minds? We want to hear all about your #HomeToVote experience.
At one particularly emotional point, I locked eyes with an elderly lady with tears rolling down her cheeks. She mouthed a “thank you”. For the rest of the day all I could think about was her, and what awful things she had probably seen in her lifetime. Although the atmosphere and support was amazing, we can only hope that this is the last year we ever have to do this.
We are forced to travel, forced to find funds in crisis. We are treated like second class citizens and forced to wear our shame silently. Children as young as 12 are forced to seek an abortion elsewhere and travel. Even in cases of rape, incest & foetal abnormality, we are still forced to travel.
This Sunday I will march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. Last year we called for the Repeal of the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland and this year we are calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.
It's something of huge personal importance. In May 2015 I was in my third and final year of university when I found out I was pregnant. I was 21 with no ability to financially support a child, unable to cope mentally and most importantly: I did not want a baby. Within a week I had an appointment at a Marie Stopes Clinic to have an abortion. I didn’t then, nor will I ever, take for granted how lucky I was to be able to access a safe, legal and free medical procedure so quickly.
In the latest government failure to support women in Northern Ireland, it has been reported that, to protect its supply and confidence deal with the DUP, the Conservative government has blocked an attempt to decriminalise abortion across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The debate currently taking place in Parliament has featured a number of DUP MP’s arguing that amendment NC7, regarding abortion and equal marriage, is contrary to devolution in Northern Ireland, and represents a power grab from Westminster.