We need our political leaders to stand up for women.
It’s easy to look at what’s happening in the US with regards to reproductive rights — Alabama banning abortion in all circumstances, Georgia enacting a “heartbeat bill”, more states tightening access to abortion — and shake our heads in dismay.
But things are little better here at home, with women in Northern Ireland still living with outdated laws that prevent abortion even if the foetus has been diagnosed with a fatal abnormality. Terminations can only be granted in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life, or her mental and/or physical health, is seriously at risk, and this exception is rarely ever given.
Given that abortion is legal in the rest of the UK, and that Ireland has also voted to lift its restriction on abortion as set out in its eighth amendment, you would think that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws would be about to change.
But you’d be wrong.
Women in Northern Ireland are being neglected by politicians, and no one is doing more neglecting than Prime Minister Theresa May, whose response to being asked in the House of Commons about abortion reform was, to put it mildly, wholly inadequate.
Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire today asked May to supporting legislation to make abortion in Northern Ireland a health, not a criminal matter, so that “as soon as possible, women have equal rights across the whole of the UK”.
May said that her “view on what should happen in relation to abortion has been clear”.
“I’ve been clear in the past,” she continued. “But this is a devolved issue and we believe this is something that should be addressed by the devolved administration in Northern Ireland, where that’s restored.”
It’s not hard to understand why so many people are unhappy with May’s response. Abortion may be a devolved issue, but it’s difficult to believe that there isn’t anything May can do to put pressure on a devolved government to change the laws.
The fight for reproductive rights will only be won by people standing together against injustice. That means we need our prime minister to do more than just bat the issue away and place it in someone else’s court.