End the Hypocrisy! Extend the 1967 Abortion Act NOW!
By Eleanor Crossey-Malone
In the days following International Women’s Day, the PSNI raided several addresses in Belfast in search of abortion pills. The pills are administered by doctors worldwide and contain drugs listed on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines. No pills were found, but activists’ phones, laptops and bank statements were seized. Northern Ireland has the most draconian criminal penalties for abortion of any region in Europe: on the basis of legislation dating from 1861, a woman having an unlawful abortion may be sentenced to life imprisonment. The raids occurred as the latest episode of a targeted effort, on behalf of the establishment, to send a message to activists and women seeking abortions: “You don’t decide your reproductive fate – we do.” This intimidation must be condemned and resisted by trade unionists and all who stand for basic human rights.
From April 2016 onward, the PSNI prosecuted a series of women who had used or bought abortion pills. Responsibility for this harassment ultimately lies with the Stormont politicians who have failed to enact the change that the majority of people want to see. None of the main parties support a woman’s right to choose. The establishment is aware of a rising resentment among young women in particular, who are increasingly unwilling to tolerate criminalisation and backward legislation, and who are joining a movement to push through progressive abortion reform. It is true that the prosecutions and raids are intended to serve as deterrents to women and to promote a climate of fear. They are an attempt to subdue our demands. But they also show that the PSNI recognises the potential for united action: they confirm that the greatest threat to the repressive system in NI is an organised and radical movement.
Rising global movement for the right to choose
Recent years have seen a relentless drive internationally by the capitalist class and their representatives to undermine and de-fund women’s reproductive services. Trump’s anti-abortion order in January, banning federal funding for international groups which ‘perform [or] actively promote abortion”, was just one part of this global reaction. In September 2016, a proposal for a total abortion ban was brought forward in Poland by the ruling Law and Justice party, backed by the Catholic Church. In early October, it was irresistibly defeated by a women’s strike and mass demonstration. The #Bus4Repeal travelled around Ireland in March providing women with accurate information and access to safe abortions in defiance of the near-blanket ban on abortion that prevails south of the border.
A clear majority in Northern Ireland supports decriminalisation of abortion, but the Stormont parties have proven their absolute unwillingness to act on it. Only the many thousands of women who will not accept criminalisation, and who join the movement to demand the immediate extension of the 1967 to Northern Ireland, will be the drivers of change.