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"If I had been in England, I would have been able to take a tablet and be supervised. But because I didn't have that, because what I was doing was illicit and illegal, I put myself at great risk. And why? Why is that?" Such is the statement of an anonymous woman, her face blacked out to protect her identity. This woman had an abortion, you see, and that is illegal where she lives.
Several countries have such stringent abortion laws that terminating a pregnancy is illegal even if not doing so would put the woman's life in danger, even if she was raped, and even if the fetus has a birth defect that is incompatible with life. These countries include El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Malta. The woman who made the statement, though, isn't from any of these countries. Instead, she's from a European Union country, from a place that is part of Great Britain — this woman is from Northern Ireland.
Speaking to the British newspaper The Guardian, she goes on to lament the fact that she's deemed a British citizen in every other way, but not when it comes to abortion rights. As the result of the stringent abortion laws in Northern Ireland, the woman ordered tablets to induce an abortion off the internet, something many other women who face an unwanted pregnancy in Ireland do too. In addition, around 5,000 of her fellow Irish women travel to England to obtain pregnancy terminations each year.
What Does The Law Say?
In the Republic of Ireland, abortion is illegal unless done to save the mother's life. In Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, a 19th-century law is in force and the UK Abortion Act 1967 has never applied. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission states:
Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent.
It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination. Termination of pregnancy based solely on malformation of the fetus is unlawful in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is currently seeking a law change. It isn't to have the Abortion Act 1967 applied within Northern Ireland, something that would give residents of Northern Ireland the same rights to abortion as women in the rest of the UK, but simply to allow "women and girls in Northern Ireland [to] have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the fetus, rape or incest."
That should not be so controversial, should it?