Why I'm Marching Today: #TheNorthIsNext
Today 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.
The campaign is close to home for me; born in Belfast, I moved to England at the age of 18 partly because I couldn’t bare to live in a country where same-sex couples are denied equal rights and where women are criminalised for choosing what happens to their own body.
I grew up in a country where women went across the water to have an abortion in secret. Some - made to feel like criminals - didn’t even make it as far as airport security. Others were known to make the journey and never return for fear of being found out.
Northern Ireland is one of the few western liberal democracies where women still face imprisonment for seeking an abortion. The criminal nature of the procedure creates such stigma and shame that many women feel forced into unwanted pregnancies.
The law does not bend for the women of Northern Ireland. They could be raped by a stranger, raped by their partner, or even raped by their own father and still - by law - they would be required to carry the pregnancy to term.
More often, women simply fall pregnant by mistake. In my mid-20s, I note that many of my peers in Belfast have children, while none in England have taken that step. I can’t help but wonder how many of those children were planned and how many have been brought into this world due to a lack of choice.
Working in the Houses of Parliament I found it deeply frustrating that the only democratic representation of Northern Irish people comes from the DUP. A party that has blocked abortion rights at home and now have the British Government wrapped around their finger.
The Northern Irish Assembly collapsed over two years ago and while the Republic of Ireland has voted for same-sex marriage and abortion rights, Northern Irish society has stagnated. Young people are leaving en masse, for London, for Melbourne, for anywhere more progressive.
The time has come to bring Northern Ireland into the 21st Century. I believe that women across the UK and Ireland should have the right to access a free and safe abortion. Ultimately, abortion is a woman’s choice and she should be trusted to make her own decision.
This year's St Patrick's Day parade starts at Piccadilly at midday on Sunday, March 17th. If you're interested in walking with the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign you can find more details here.