During this extraordinary snap election, we saw so many u-turns it was hard to keep up. Accusations flew wildly around about Irish terrorists, how ‘wobbly’ and ‘chaotic’ politicians appeared, the tone of the discussions on television was acrimonious at best.
All promises are out the window now that a weakened Theresa May is in negotiations with the Democratic Unionist Party and those of us who campaign to defend and extend abortion access have reason to be worried.
Despite advances in England, Wales and Scotland – safe, legal abortion have never been extended to Northern Ireland, where women still live with the outdated, Victorian Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 under which all abortion is a crime, punishable with a life sentence. The only exception to this is when there is a permanent or serious risk to a woman’s life or mental or physical health, but in 2015/2016, only 16 abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland under this exception.
This means that the majority of women either have to travel and pay upwards of £600 for their treatment or buy abortion pills online. While there are safe medically-supervised sites that they can access, women risk being prosecuted unless they can afford and be able to arrange to travel.
The DUP are fervently anti-abortion and could again pose a real threat if they are the tail wagging the Conservative dog. Arlene Foster wants to retain an almost total ban on abortions and asserted this position publicly – when she took over the position of First Minister in the Northern Irish Assembly last year – that she intends to maintain the DUP’s opposition to any reform of the notoriously strict abortion laws.
To be clear, her position is against abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities – even if the foetus wouldn’t survive. Earlier this year, an attempt to allow women to access abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime was voted down in Stormont. The lack of access to abortion in these cases was ruled as a breach of women’s human rights by the Belfast High Court.
The Abortion Act doesn’t apply to women in Northern Ireland, but this doesn’t stop the DUP turning up in Westminster and adding their vote to restrict our right to abortion. DUP MPs spoke several times in the 2015 sex selection amendment and 4 MPs voted for more restrictive abortion laws that didn’t even affect their constituents.
Ex-Tory minister Owen Patterson has already hinted that there could be another vote on abortion time limits as part of the deal with the DUP.
We should be seeking better laws for women, fit for the 21st century – not the 19th! Laws that give us bodily autonomy and trust us to make our own decisions freely, that allow women to access their medical choices without travelling hundreds of miles or being forced to carry their foetus back in a cool bag to be buried. But instead, women’s rights are being used as a bargaining chip by the Tories to cling on to power.
This is not okay.
We should stand with our LGBT friends and family, and demand that our rights are not sold off as part of a squalid deal to prop up a failed government. It is not the time to be complacent about the rights to control our bodies and live our lives.
Donate to the Abortion Rights campaign today and be part of the resistance.
This article was first published on the Huffington Post