By Amy Ferguson
In response to the recent consultation on new abortion guidelines in Northern Ireland, following on from decriminalisation via Westminster, the Socialist Party and socialist-feminist group ROSA have jointly called for:
- No going back on abortion rights that have been won
- Free, safe and legal abortion, accessible on the NHS in Northern Ireland. In order to ensure easy access, termination of pregnancy services should be available through GPs, as well as sexual health clinics and through the use of safe pills that can be obtained online – nobody should be made to travel overseas to obtain healthcare.
- A real right to choose, meaning (but not limited to) adequate social housing, free public childcare, properly funded schools and the removal of other barriers for those who wish to have children.
Another major point that must be noted is that the decriminalisation of abortion has been won through struggle, not simply handed down by benevolent MPs. The politicians were forced into action after a light was shone on the denial of reproductive rights in the North. It was the actions of pro-choice activists that were key to making this happen.
Unfortunately, now is not yet the time to sit back, relax and celebrate our victory. There are still many threats facing our right to free, safe and legal abortion. The anti-choice brigade mobilised as widely as possible to skew the outcome of the consultation, despite poll after poll proving that the majority of the population support broad liberalisation of abortion laws. This may contribute to guidelines which fall short of what is necessary.
Moreover, we must be aware of the potential that the returning of Stormont may cause either a rolling back on decriminalisation. This would not be down to the DUP alone. Remember that Sinn Féin were dragged kicking and screaming before they backed access without restriction up to twelve weeks in the South. In a recent interview, Conor Murphy explicitly stated that his party supports abortion access only “under certain limited circumstances” and they only supported access up to 12 weeks on request in the South with victims of sexual crime in mind, not because the party supports the right to choose! None of the five main parties in the North have a pro-choice position.
If it does become the case that our rights are threatened, we must be prepared to mobilise again to prove that we are the majority and we will accept nothing less than the demands stated above. Such a campaign needs to be cross-community, have the full involvement of trade unions and must be willing to be radical to make our voices heard. We won through struggle before, and will do again.