Once again this week, we’ve seen the brutal reality faced by women in the North as the state reaffirmed its commitment to deny women the right to choose. Yesterday’s legal appeal–brought forward by a mother and her teenage daughter—to challenge the policy of not allowing NHS provided abortions for women who travel to England and Wales, was quashed by the Court of Appeal. It is a blatant breach of a woman’s fundamental right to choose what happens to her body.
Because of draconian abortion laws in the North, each year, upwards of 2000 women travel from NI to the UK for abortions through private medical companies. The cost of doing this averages at around £1000. The harsh reality is that although being illegal in NI, abortion is attainable; but only for those who can afford to travel to the Britain. The decision to deny the mother and her child the right to an NHS provided abortion means they had to pay for the procedure themselves, along with travel costs, accommodation etc. The cost of doing this means safe and attainable abortion is not an option for those women who are struggling financially.
No woman should be forced to pay £1000 and face the stress of having to travel away from their friends and family to have an abortion. It is not a decision people take lightly, and having to go to an unfamiliar place, without the company of loved ones and the reassurance of family means it causes undue mental stress on thousands of women each year.
Furthermore, women from working class and moderate income backgrounds find themselves disproportionately affected by these anti-abortion laws. Those struggling with financial difficulties simply cannot afford to travel across to the UK; this, again, causes untold hardship for thousands of low income women for whom travelling to Britain is not financially feasible. The mother of the teenage girl whose appeal was quashed yesterday, herself, spoke emotionally of the stress of trying to raise the £1000, and the difficulties this posed for them at an already stressful time.
In another case which highlights the absurdity of abortion laws this week, a woman is to be prosecuted for procuring abortion pills for her teenage daughter. The pill, which is also illegal in the North, is standard issue across other parts of the UK.
The fact that the woman potentially faces up to 14 years in jail is nothing short of a disgrace. Plenty of women make use of this pill in the North. It is often a case of either travelling to the UK at a cost of £1000, or buying a pill online for £70, therefore, they often have no other option.
News of this woman’s arrest has encouraged Pro Choice activists to sign an open letter stating they too had procured abortion pills, and had therefore, broken the law. In coming weeks there will be protests of solidarity which can help highlight that this is not an isolated case, as many women face the same difficulties, day and daily, because of backward laws denying women the right to choose.
The Assembly needs to get with the times. Politicians should realise the brutal reality these draconian laws are causing for thousands of women across the North. We need to keep campaigning to show solidarity with those women who are on the frontline. For those charged with breaching the law; we can show solidarity by organising pickets of support outside their court hearings, petitioning, and signing open letters to garner support, and put pressure on politicians to highlight that these are not isolated cases, that women across the North are faced with the same realities because of backward laws.
We need to keep up the pressure to have these laws changed. Unfortunately, when it comes to improving abortion laws in the North, we are met with ardent opposition from politicians in Stormont (for the most part wealthy male politicians.)We are told by all of the main parties that a woman’s right to choose does not matter.
This ignorance and lack of understanding ignores the complex reality of the situation faced by many women, and only lumps further hardships on them at a time when they should be entitled to the full support of the state and health service.
Instead they are criminalised, with thousands of women having to find ways around the law every year. This is unacceptable and has to change; People Power and mass action is the only way to go about this. That means showing solidarity with the victims of these laws in the immediate term, but also realising the need to mount a serious campaign long term. One which can give voice to the silent majority, and seek to radicalise and mobilise people onto the streets to mount a serious challenge to the draconian anti-abortion laws in the North.