The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom heard a case in late October where the proponents of the case hoped to eradicate Northern Ireland’s incredibly out-of-date laws regarding abortion, which, according to The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC), are in breach of basic human rights, especially those set forth by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The NIHRC, which has taken the case in its own name because of how challenging it would be for one woman to dispute the case for abortion, is fighting back against the June 2017 overturning of a court ruling from 2015 in Belfast stating that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach human rights. This historical case is the first time an organisation rather than an individual person has gone against the Supreme Court.
In Northern Ireland, abortion is illegal in virtually all situations. The only time a woman is legally allowed to end her pregnancy is when the continuation of it would lead to a direct threat to the woman’s life.
This begs the question, what about women who are victims of rape? Or pregnancies through incest? Or mothers carrying babies with foetal abnormalities? Or, simply, women who do not wish to have a baby? Should they be forced to continue their pregnancies?
At present, the answer is yes – that is their only option. Any woman who unlawfully aborts a pregnancy in Northern Ireland could receive a life sentence in jail.
In the year 2017 in Britain, it seems inconceivable that a woman could receive a life term — that is, a maximum of 25 years imprisoned — for choosing to end a pregnancy, a decision that is so directly related to her body and her health. Surely she should have the final say? Indeed, abortion has been legal in the UK for five decades as a result of the 1967 Abortion Act.
However, this ruling was never extended to Northern Ireland and, according the BBC, only sixteen abortions were performed in Northern Ireland between 2015 and 2016. In a country of 1.8M people, it is absurd to believe that over the course of a year fewer than twenty women had unwanted pregnancies.
Where did they go? To England. In 2015, over 800 women travelled across The Irish Sea to seek safe, legal abortions.
The laws in Northern Ireland appear to be incredibly out-dated and considering they are based on an Act from 1861, it becomes evident that they are.
Women are taking control of their bodies. They will no longer be told what to do with their bodies because of laws that are over a hundred years old. And, hopefully, this is only the beginning of creating a world where abortions are safe, legal and accessible.