170 British and Irish Politicians call on Westminster to interfere in NI abortion laws

CRUEL & EXTREME: Over 170 British and Irish politicians have signed an open letter calling on the British Government to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, legalising the killing of preborn babies up to BIRTH. The letter has been published in the Sunday Times and can be read below:

Letter to the Editor: Abortion reform for Northern Irish

July 22 2018

The Sunday Times

We the undersigned, as British and Irish parliamentarians, remain proud of the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement 20 years on. We respect the responsibility it places on both governments as the co-guarantors of the agreement to uphold and protect the human rights of all the residents of Northern Ireland.

In 1998, when parties signed up to the agreement, they did so on the basis that one of the foundation stones of the new political dispensation in Northern Ireland was that laws would be compliant with the European convention on human rights (ECHR). This responsibility cannot be abandoned for political expediency; and it falls to each of us to help ensure that these commitments are proactively upheld.

Yet now we recognise this commitment is being tested. The recent referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment to the constitution of Ireland/Bunreacht na hÉireann, saw the people in the south of Ireland vote by a large majority to rewrite the Irish state’s existing abortion law. This has highlighted the situation north of the border where action is urgently needed to protect the human rights of women.

Currently, abortion law in Northern Ireland is defined by one 157-year old piece of British legislation – the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (Oapa). Section 58 of this legislation makes it a crime for a woman, pregnant or not, to take any medication or use any instrument to attempt to cause her own abortion.

In the original legislation, the penalty for this was “to be kept in penal servitude for life” – a punishment which is now up to life in prison. Section 59 makes it a crime to assist in causing an abortion – which includes doctors treating patients in line with best medical practice. The penalty for this is up to five years in prison.

Last month, the UK Supreme Court issued a statement that Northern Ireland’s abortion law treated women as “vehicles”, is “untenable”, and is in need of “radical reconsideration” as is incompatible with article 8 of the ECHR.

The court stated: “Those responsible for ensuring the compatibility of Northern Ireland law with the convention rights will no doubt recognise and take account of these conclusions, at as early a time as possible, by considering whether and how to amend the law, in the light of the ongoing suffering being caused by it.” 

This follows the statement by the UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women (Cedaw) which told the British government in February that abortion law in Northern Ireland breached the human rights of citizens living there. It stated that “denial of abortion and criminalisation of abortion amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need”.

Both the UN and the UK Supreme Court have considered the case for the British government to repeal the relevant offences in the Oapa. Yet despite these statements, the UK government has refused to act upon both the UN Cedaw ruling and the supreme court, arguing instead that this is a “devolved matter” for the Northern Ireland Assembly alone to address.

Without an assembly or executive in place for more than 18 months, this therefore raises the prospect that a victim of rape will be required to take the British government to court herself to vindicate these rights.

It is our belief that the current situation for women cannot be ignored or allowed to continue. Indeed, the current lack of devolved institutions also presents a lacuna for the protection of human rights across the board.

The Good Friday Agreement set out rights equivalency protections on a north-south basis. The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement recently warned of the risks of creating a difference in rights protections on a north-south basis, and recommended that the UK and Irish governments ensure the safeguarding of the north-south equivalency of rights on an ongoing basis.

We also note that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has recognised the current fragmentation of rights across these islands in relation to abortion: “Any right or freedom that an Irish citizen has in Ireland, any right or freedom that a British citizen has in Britain, should be enjoyed by Irish and British citizens in Northern Ireland and that applies to things like marriage equality and abortion rights.”

Without urgent action, women and girls living in Northern Ireland will continue to be unable to access safe healthcare at home. In 2017, 919 women and girls were forced to travel across to Britain to access a safe abortion, while others took illegal abortion pills in their bedrooms and bathrooms without the support of a medical professional, and others faced criminal prosecution.

We welcome the announcement that the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) shall be convened in London on July 25. We hope that the BIIGC will urgently agree a pathway forward to adequately provide for human rights — including compliant healthcare access for women and girls living in Northern Ireland.

We also recognise that an essential first step in delivering this human right would be for the Westminster parliament to repeal sections 58 and 59 of Oapa and decriminalise abortion and we urge Westminster to set out an explicit legislative timetable as to when it will do so.

This is the first and critical step to ending the treatment of British and Irish women living in Northern Ireland as second-class citizens, who do not enjoy the same access to healthcare as their counterparts do across these islands.

We therefore call for our respective governments to act to ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is upheld and the human rights of the women living in Northern Ireland are respected.

Make no mistake about it, the signatories of this letter are calling for abortion to be made legal in Northern Ireland without boundaries. They are essentially calling for abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy - this would become a reality if abortion were to be decriminalised in this province.

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