How To Help Change Northern Ireland's Abortion Laws, Because UK Citizens Are Still Being Denied This Right

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Over the past few days, talk of abortion on social media has rightfully increased. The awareness-raising is mainly down to a series of bills recently passed in the U.S.; in particular, Alabama's highly restrictive abortion law. Plenty of UK citizens have, however, pointed out that a place much closer to home is currently in a worse situation. People living in Northern Ireland are unable to legally have an abortion, unless there is a serious risk to their health. But you can help change Northern Ireland's abortion laws and ensure that every person living in the UK enjoys the same rights.

Right now, anyone involved in procuring an abortion in Northern Ireland can receive a punishment of life imprisonment. The only option for people wanting to terminate a pregnancy in the country is to do so illegally (usually by buying potentially dangerous pills online) or to travel to another part of the UK. In 2017, it was announced that people would be able to have a free abortion in England, reports the BBC. But for those who can't afford travel costs or want to remain close to their family and friends, this isn't a viable option.

"There seems to be a permanent block in the public’s mind about the fact that in one part of the United Kingdom basic human reproductive rights are being denied to women," Mara Clarke from the Abortion Support Network told the Guardian.

Here's a few things you can do to ensure everyone knows what's really going on and, more importantly, to effect the change people in Northern Ireland have been seeking for decades.

1. Email Your MP

Parliament has held a number of discussions relating to abortion legislation in Northern Ireland, but seems unwilling to take a stand. One word sums up why: devolution. In 2010, the UK gave Northern Ireland power over certain policies, reports the BBC. Abortion was one of them. This has meant that, for fear of conflict, Westminster has been reluctant to enforce change. The issue is that the Northern Irish Assembly (also known as Stormont) has been suspended for over two years. It's not yet known when it will resume.

Several MPs have advised a way around this, speaking up in favour of decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland. To urge your local MP to support such a law change, send them an email. In fact, you don't even have to write one out yourself. Now For NI has done all of the hard work for you. All you have to do is enter your postcode, pop your name and address in, and an email will be sent straight to your local representative. The more they receive, the more likely they are to listen.

2. Sign & Share Petitions

Petitions are another powerful way to show public support for an issue. As the founder of #FreePeriods, Amika George, will testify, they can result in new legislation. A number of petitions relating to abortion in Northern Ireland have been set up. Many ask for the UK Parliament to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

This piece of Victorian-era legislation criminalises abortions conducted outside the law, reports the Independent. And as the 1967 Abortion Act — which legalised abortion up until 24 weeks into pregnancy and beyond in special circumstances — wasn't extended to Northern Ireland, anyone who has an abortion without legal permission can be prosecuted, reports the BBC.

In February 2019, Amnesty International delivered a 62,000-signature petition to the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, reports the Guardian. More than 50,000 people have supported a petition set up by Alliance for Choice — a fantastic campaign group based in Northern Ireland. Signing it will also automatically send an email to Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Women and Equalities.

I, too, have recently started a petition urging Westminster to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by accepting responsibility for the legislation while keeping devolution intact. This can theoretically be done in one of two ways: by repealing the aforementioned sections of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 or by ensuring that international human rights obligations are upheld throughout the entirety of the UK, as it is supposed to do. In 2018, the UN accused the UK of committing "grave and systematic violations" of human rights by allowing Northern Ireland's abortion restriction to continue.

3. Donate

Several organisations need all the money they can get to continue providing abortion access and resources to those who need it. You can do this via quick and easy donations (either one-off or monthly) or by buying merchandise.

Alliance for Choice sells everything from magnets and badges to T-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags. Alternatively, you can donate here to help them hold workshops, boost social media campaigns, and ensure the voices of the Northern Irish people are heard in Westminster.

Similarly, you can donate to the Abortion Rights Campaign and buy merchandise. The Abortion Support Network needs donations too to provide financial assistance to those people who need to travel for a legal and safe abortion.

4. Fundraise Or Volunteer

Charitable organisations know that the average person doesn't have money growing out of their ears. If you're not in a position to donate, you can still raise funds for all of the above names.

Alliance for Choice has put together a fundraising toolkit full of up-to-date information, posters, and leaflets. It has also listed a bunch of fundraising ideas including cake and pre-worn clothing sales, a quiz night, or a personal physical challenge.

The Abortion Support Network also welcomes fundraisers along with volunteers. You can also lend a hand to the Abortion Rights Campaign in areas such as social media, policy writing, event organisation, and general admin.

5. Raise Your Voice

Last but certainly not least, don't forget to share news and views on social media. Whether your platform of choice is Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, it's important to raise awareness of the current situation and advise others on ways they can help.

Together, we can make a difference and bring Northern Ireland's abortion legislation into 2019.