Termination of pregnancy rights in Northern
Ireland – the role of pro-choice activists
University of Ulster, UK
This paper considers the protests and activism led by the Alliance
for Choice movement, an organisation that campaigns for the
extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. The role
of women in the movement is considered with particular focus on
its most recent period of activism which began in the months
preceding a proposed debate in Westminster in 2008 where a
tabled amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Bill by Diane Abbot MP sought an extension of the 1967
Abortion Act to NI. In response to this a series of events and
activities were held to raise awareness amongst MP’s, trade unions
and the wider public. The Alliance for Choice campaign took a
strong pro-choice approach, focusing on the issue of equality with
women in the rest of the UK. Despite the withdrawal of the
amendment to the Bill in late 2008 the movement has continued
on with its campaign, including preparation of a submission to
the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
This paper will review the actions of the Alliance for Choice
movement, considering the motivations for participation in the
movement and reﬂect on the impact of the movement in
achieving its goal of termination of pregnancy legislation
extending to Northern Ireland.
Objectives: This paper considers recent developments in abortion law and policy in Northern Ireland and analyses their impact on access and future direction. Specifically, the paper considers: the investigation carried out by Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the implementation of the Centralised Booking System for those travelling to England; the implications of the Irish Referendum; political debates in the UK parliament and the recent Supreme Court Judgement.
Methods: the paper reviews research studies, political debates, policy documents, legal cases and considers the views of stakeholders (senior civil servants, health professional bodies, politicians, activists, trade unionists and academics).
Results: The restrictive legal context in Northern Ireland has resulted in only 16 abortions carried out by the NHS in the last reported year.In contrast 919 abortions were carried out in England to those with Northern Ireland addresses. Others self-abort at home, risking criminality in doing so. There is also evidence that abortion is a workplace issue – that women are unable to get sick leave, returning to work too soon and are uncertain who they can access support from.The CEDAW inquiry established that restricted access resulted in grave and systematic violation of human rights, including the chilling effect on clinicians of unclear law and policy, no referral pathway for post abortion care for those that travelled and no pathways for return of foetal remains.
Conclusions: the culmination of the CEDAW investigation and court judgements have identified human rights violations as a result of highly restricted access to abortion. This can only be overcome by decisive legislative action to address inadequacies, until then, for many needing an abortion, travelling to England or self-aborting at home, will remain a harsh reality.
Objectives: In societies with oppressive anti-abortion norms, such as Northern Ireland, little is known about how these norms are resisted by the adult population. This paper explores how resistance to religious and patriarchal norms can be fostered through adult community abortion education; and considers how such knowledge can inform engagement with those seeking and providing abortions.
Methods: Participants (n=17) of a community-based abortion education programme were interviewed to explore their views on abortion utilising semi-structured interviews.
This paper focuses on a thematic analysis of the interview data, with a particular focus on how women resisted oppressive norms and the stigmatised positioning of abortion.
Results: The findings indicate that this resistance is multi-faceted and bolstered by a lived experience discourse, which does not necessarily involve eschewing religious notions held within society.
Conclusions: Meanings of abortion in society are constructed within socio-historical and gendered spaces and manifested through myriad discourses that impact on the perception and treatment of the issue in that society. The paper concludes that adult abortion education in community settings offers the possibility of creating dialogical spaces for people to reflect on and resist oppressive norms regarding reproduction and abortion, and in so doing can challenge stigma more broadly. (drawn from article Bloomer, O"Dowd, Macloed, 2014)