By Niamh Galwey
MPs at Westminster voted to introduce same-sex marriage and decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland if the Stormont Assembly is not restored by 22 October. This is a historic time for us here in the North, but what exactly does this mean?
The use of abortion pills will be decriminalised, meaning those who’ve taken them can seek medical attention without fear. Under interim guidelines which will be in place until 31st March, abortions will be available in cases of fatal and serious foetal abnormalities and, in other cases, the travel and accommodation costs for abortions in Britain will be fully funded. Medical professionals who oppose abortion will be obliged to refer to another who will assist and must not attempt to impress their personal views on the patient.
These are all great steps forward for us but they fight is not yet over. We must remain vigilant. We must keep up the pressure. These changes were won, not through the benevolance of MPs, but by pressure from the movements that have taken place, including acts of civil disobedience, such as the public taking of abortion pills by activists from ROSA, the socialist-feminist movement.
Fight to ensure free and accessible abortion services on the NHS
An 8-week public consultation is to take place on the permanent guidelines to take effect from April. This can become an important battleground. The anti-choice movement will look to mobilise their support to pressure civil servants and health professionals to impose as many restrictions as possible. Already, they have moved all forces to the point of attack, with thousands joining an anti-choice rally in September.
This cannot go unanswered. The trade union movement and pro-choice groups should call a mass demonstration and other actions during the consultation period to demand free and accessible abortion services on the NHS in Northern Ireland. This would also send a message to the Stormont politicians that attempts to roll back on the decriminalisation of abortion in the future will not be tolerated.