The vague, over asked but under examined question.
In early February this year, I remember sitting listening intently to an MLA give a speech on their career, public representation and political opinions. The topic of abortion was brought up, and I remember them clearly stating; “Since the introduction of the 1967 Act to the UK, there has been over 8 million abortions.” I sat back stunned, shook and furious. For two reasons. Firstly, I was listening to a male discuss an issue where I felt he should have very little input. And secondly, I remember sitting back screaming in my head “How dare he”. How dare he or anyone generalise 8 million abortions. How dare anyone sit and say that individuals have abortions for only one reason.
I challenged this MLA. I questioned how he thought he could have such a big input on what a woman, trans man or non-binary individual does with their body. I then went on to challenge him and asked what if a family member of his had been raped and fell pregnant. He dodged the question. I called him out on the fact that this issue is no longer just about women as well, it’s also about the trans and non-binary communities. But it also outlines the social class issues that we still face in Northern Ireland today.
I also remember back in October I walked through the streets of Belfast, carrying a poster that said “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d sleep with an MLA”. I was later called vulgar by an ex-MLA in the Belfast Telegraph. But I didn’t care. Because this male ex-MLA will never have to go through getting pregnant or even the trauma left with having an abortion. These decisions aren’t easy. These decisions leave imprints on our lives that we can never forget.
In Northern Ireland, people tend to use the same reasons to argue each side of the argument on reproductive rights. It’s the same back and forward dispute of “It’s a baby from conception” quoted by the bible or “my body, my choice”. But not many take the time out to actually examine what goes on in the background and how it can affect individuals lives.
This year marks the 50th anniversary since the introduction of the 1967 Act in the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland is still 50 years behind on legislation where it is illegal to have an abortion and under the 1861 Act still criminalises individuals. The 1967 Act simply carved out a way for doctors to perform abortion without being criminalized in England and Wales. Scotland is slightly different due to their legal system. The 1967 Act did provide for greater access to abortion on the Scottish NHS and the Scottish Chief Medical Officer now recommends individuals in Scotland be able to take abortion pills at home after a GP prescription.
But looking to the wider UK legislation, we still have individuals suffering from both the ‘rape clause’ and the ‘two child cap’. The ‘rape clause’ outlines that an individual can claim for a third child if it was conceived at a time were consent could not or was not given, such as rape. Or if an individual was in an abusive relationship, under ongoing control or coercion by the other parent of the child.
There is nothing that disgusts me more than someone saying; “how can you prove rape, if the individual does not fall pregnant”. The physical and mental abuse that is left after rape is what an individual has to deal with. And so, after all the trauma an individual has gone through by being raped, the rape clause then wants individuals to prove they have been raped in order to claim benefits for that child. On average, it costs £11,000 during the first year to raise a child. Those claiming the child benefit only receive an average of £1,050 for one child or £1,800 for two children. So, for single parents trying to raise 3 or more children, will struggle constantly without the extra child benefit.
Access for abortion in Northern Ireland is vital. This is not only basic healthcare but it is a human right that many individuals are currently being denied. For Northern Irish patients who travel, they have always had access to abortions in Great Britain under the 1967 Act and that has not changed under the new provisions. The Labour MP Diana Johnston was trying to pass an abortion decriminalisation bill (affecting England and Wales) in Westminster but the general election in June threw that into the long grass. At present, Northern Irish patients still have to pay up front but get reimbursed for treatment costs afterwards. The Equalities Office is supposed to set up a Central Booking Service in the new year so that individuals can access abortion free at the point of service.
However, individuals should not have to look at this as a journey they have to complete. They should not have to think about stepping foot on to a plane or a ferry. The should be able to stay in their home country and be provided with the free, safe and legal healthcare, as well as having their human rights upheld.
But living in a country where the legislation criminalises individuals breaks my heart and angers me. It angers me as this one day could affect me and I may be that individual in need of an abortion. To have no legislation on the matter at all, not even for rape or fatal foetal abnormality is absurd. We are living under Victorian legislation which is hugely outdated. Our government dealing with this issue is a perfect example of why there should be separation of the church and the state. Our MLAs are influenced by what their religion is telling them, instead of what’s right for the people.
For me there is more to the question than “Pro-life or Pro-Choice”. I would class myself as Pro-Choice as I believe in giving individuals the choice to make the personal decision for themselves. But until you are faced with this situation, I don’t think it would be fair for anyone to sit and categories themselves as Pro-Life. But I think this question is far too vague. This question shouldn’t be looked at like its two categories, now pick one based on what you believe. You can be Pro-Life, you can make the argument that having an abortion is wrong. But it isn’t going to stop individuals from having an abortion. It isn’t going to change how individuals feel on the matter. It isn’t going to stop me fighting another day for your reproductive rights.
Emma is a 19 year old Northern Irish intersectional feminist from Crossgar. She is currently on a gap year but planning to go to Queens to study French and Politics. Her interests include reproductive rights, animal welfare and integrated education. She is an aspiring politician, Green Party Executive Officer and a human rights advocate. She is writing in a personal capacity.