Voice for Choice, the UK’s coalition of pro-choice organisations, urges the Government to ensure that any deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will not result in any further restriction on access to abortion, for women living in all UK nations.
This year marks the 50th anniversary since the introduction of the Abortion Act. This landmark piece of legislation granted women across Great Britain the right to reproductive choice, through access to legal, safe, state-funded abortion care. This Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, leaving women who face an unplanned or crisis pregnancy to suffer daily discrimination and inequality under the Victorian legislation that still governs their right to bodily autonomy.
Women in Northern Ireland seeking abortion are forced to travel away from their homes, pay for a private procedure at a cost that can reach thousands of pounds or buy medical abortion pills online, which is illegal and leaves them vulnerable to prosecution. This has happened recently. One 21-year-old woman was handed a suspended sentence for procuring her own abortion, while a man and woman have accepted a police caution for purchasing pills. While talks continue between the Conservatives and the DUP, more women in Northern Ireland are awaiting trial.
Prosecuting women for accessing this medication is further punishing individuals who already struggle to access services, and increases the stigma and fear for women in Northern Ireland. UK courts and the United Nations have ruled that the law is a clear abuse of human rights, which the UK Government in Westminster has a responsibility to uphold.
A Conservative government must protect the right to abortion in Great Britain and legislate for abortion law reform in Northern Ireland. It is clear that any potential deal with the DUP must not block progress on abortion rights.
We urge the Government to publicly commit to protecting women’s fundamental human rights to dignity, respect and freedom from reproductive coercion.