03.09.12, Joanna Tacon
The future health minister of Northern Ireland, Jim Wells, has caused outrage by stating that he does not support abortion – even when the pregnancy is a result of rape.
Wells, the South Down MLA and member of the Democratic Unionist party, who is due to become the province’s health minister next year, said in a radio interview that aborting a foetus conceived through rape was merely “punishing” the “ultimate victim” of the crime.
Asked to clarify his statements by the Belfast Telegraph, Wells said he stood by his words.
In a statement that echoed controversial comments on ‘legitimate rape’ and abortion made by by US Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin recently, Wells said that pregnancies caused by rape are “extremely rare” in Northern Ireland, and bowing to the pro-choice movement’s call for compassion in such cases could lead to “abortion on demand”.
He added: “In Northern Ireland there are hundreds of married couples who would love to adopt children, a child, a baby, and who could give support in that situation.”
Notably absent from Wells’ callous assessment of the situation is the rape victim: in other words, the person who will have to deal with the knowledge that she is carrying her rapist’s child for nine months, before – in Wells’ optimal outcome – handing over the baby to strangers.
Alliance MLA Anna Lo spoke out against Wells’ views. She said: “Women have a choice over their own body and for men like Jim Wells to say that [rape victims should be denied abortions] is wrong.”
The DUP is staunchly anti-abortion, but Wells went too far even by the standards of his own party’s anti-choice platform. Following his remarks, the DUP issued a statement which read: “We would like to see as few abortions carried out as possible but recognise that a small number of abortions are legally carried out in Northern Ireland and victims of rape may be included within this.”
Just 43 legal abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland in 2010-2011.
Out of step with public opinion
Wells’ ultra-strict anti-abortion stance is out of step with public opinion in Northern Ireland – and with his political peers’ views on whether terminations should be available for rape victims.
A recent survey, carried out by an independent polling company on behalf of the Family Planning Association (FPA) of Northern Ireland, found that just one in five people holds views as extreme as Wells on the question of allowing rape victims to access abortion.
The Belfast Telegraph reported that the “vast majority” of the 1,400 people surveyed support the right of a rape victim to get a termination.
Audrey Simpson of the FPA told the paper that the survey shows that the majority is in support of relaxing the province’s strict anti-abortion laws: “This survey is sending out a very clear message from people who are living in the real world.
“It shows that people are sensitive to the issue of rape and the fact that women are mature enough to make decisions for themselves.”
An anonymous poll of 36 Stormont MLAs found that 66% agreed that rape victims should be allowed to get abortions, UTV reported.
Abortion Rights calls for change in Northern Ireland
Responding to Jim Wells’ comments, Abortion Rights said:
“Jim Wells is Northern Ireland’s very own Todd Akin. His shocking opinions are a reminder that extreme anti-choice politicians are not just a problem for the US, but are on our own doorstep.
But his views are out of step with public opinion in Northern Ireland and the UK in general. Most people agree that victims of rape should be treated with compassion and have their privacy respected, rather than have their situation politicised in this way.
Women in Northern Ireland are being treated like second class citizens when it comes to abortion. They deserve the same rights and healthcare services as their sisters in the rest of the UK. They should not be forced to travel hundred of miles, at great financial and emotional cost, to access safe abortion.
We call on MLAs of all parties to engage with local pro-choice groups to make progress on this issue. We’ll be calling on Westminster politicians this autumn to use the powers they have to do the same, and to move towards full decriminalisation of abortion in the UK.”
Youth Defence stewards protect neo-Nazi?
Notorious white nationalist, anti-Semite, and extreme anti-choice activist Michael Quinn was present at the ‘March for Life’ held in Belfast in July of this year. Quinn attracted press attention when he recently said that he would have “no problem” with a mass murder in the Dáil, similar to the massacre carried out by Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. Quinn even told an Irish paper that – in his view – Breivik was not racist enough: “It’s hard to figure [Breivik] out, there’s more and more information coming out. He’s not a white nationalist, he’s pro-Israeli and pro-Jew, he’s anti-racist – so people like myself wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole.”
Quinn is a long-time associate of anti-choice group Youth Defence, having been convicted of public order offences following an anti-abortion protest in Dublin in 1999 that turned into a “mini-riot”. The conviction was apparently later dropped.
A photograph of Quinn at the “March for Life” was posted on the Facebook page of the Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland). According to a report posted alongside the photo, a member of the Workers Solidarity Movement was pushed to the ground by Youth Defence march stewards, and then arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, after attempting to protest his presence.
Other people have reported that attempts to publish the photo on Youth Defence’s Facebook page have proved fruitless, with the page’s administrators deleting every appearance of the photo, despite (or perhaps because of?) Quinn’s longstanding links to the group.
- The FPA has a page on how you can help the pro-choice movement in Northern Ireland – click here for more information.
- The Belfast Telegraph has run several excellent pro-choice opinion pieces, including this article by Kathryn Johnston on the need for a new abortion law, and this piece by Fionola Meredith on the religious zealotry driving Wells’ anti-choice views.