Visible Women

Why these female celebrities have written a powerful open letter to Theresa May

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and more are urging the prime minister to support a bill to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. 

Almost 50,000 people have signed an Amnesty International petition demanding the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

Today, scores of celebrities including Claire Foy, Kate Beckinsale, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Emma Thompson, Gemma Arterton, Vanessa Redgrave, Sharon Horgan, Claudia Winkleman and Gemma Chan have thrown their weight behind the cause ahead of the second reading of a Private Members’ Bill tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson and co-sponsored by Conservative MP Nicky Morgan discussing a change to Northern Ireland’s restrictive rules on terminations.

Amnesty’s hope is that the bill will be given time in the House of Commons, if not on Friday then in the near future.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, the celebrities write that “we’re counting on you and your government to stand with women and decriminalise abortion.” 

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“Give us choice and control over our own bodies,” the letter reads. “Show women from Northern Ireland that you won’t stand for them being governed by one of the harshest and cruellest abortion laws in the world. Show us that you value and champion the rights of all women, no matter which part of the UK they’re from.”

Currently, Northern Ireland is the only province of the United Kingdom in which abortion is illegal. The Abortion Act of 1967, which decriminalised abortion in certain circumstances in England, Wales and Scotland, does not apply to the citizens of Northern Ireland.

Women in Northern Ireland can only access a termination if doctors believe that their mental or physical health would be seriously or permanently harmed if a pregnancy was to continue. Abortions are unlikely to be granted in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormalities. Between the months of March and June this year alone some 342 women and teenagers were forced to travel to England for an abortion, according to the Guardian.

Protesters fight for the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland

“The situation in Northern Ireland is grave and urgent,” Johnson said in a statement. “My decriminalisation Bill has support from almost every UK political party and will be in Parliament on Friday. The Government must give it the time it needs to progress. Women need this change. Abortion is a healthcare and human rights issue. It’s time it was treated as such.”

Johnson’s bill is just one of several pushes to dismantle Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. In October, the Belfast High Court ruled that Northern Irish woman Sarah Ewart had legal grounds to challenge the country’s abortion laws through the court system on the grounds that the laws violated her fundamental human rights when she was forced to travel to England for a termination five years ago.

“Options need to be there for women,” Ewart told Stylist.co.uk. “This is medical. This is not political and it’s not a religious fight. This is women’s healthcare.”

You can read the open letter in full and join the petition here

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

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