Heidi Allen MP has signed a cross party letter calling for the government to utilise the Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure women in Northern Ireland have the same rights as other UK citizens.
The letter explains how the artificial restriction of devolution means women in Northern Ireland are living under “horrific laws”, which are “more restrictive than in either Alabama or Georgia.”
The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act include sections 58 and 59 which criminalise abortion in Northern Ireland with no exceptions. The UK has been challenged multiple times by international bodies over the treatment of women in Northern Ireland, yet the government “hides behind devolution to justify the denial of human rights.”
Heidi and the cross party signatories have called for the government to extend the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, to Northern Ireland. Parliament could use the bill to “repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861”, but until then, women in Northern Ireland “will continue to suffer.”
A full copy of the letter signed by Heidi can be read below.
You can watch Heidi discuss her own personal reasons of being in favour of such change following this link.
“Amidst the outcry on abortion restrictions in America, the UK should look closer to home in the fight for human rights. Laws affecting our own citizens are more restrictive than in either Alabama or Georgia. We urge the British public to use this moment as a wake up call about the horrific laws under which women and girls in Northern Ireland are living thanks to this Government and to demand change.
Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 mean that abortion in Northern Ireland is criminalised by life in prison. There is no exception for rape or incest. Women and doctors are all criminalised under this ancient legislation. Denying access to abortion at home doesn’t stop abortion. It just risks the safety of women. 28 women a week currently travel from Northern Ireland to England to access abortion. Others who cannot travel access abortion pills online, risking life in prison.
The threat of prosecution is not idle. Right now in Northern Ireland, the mother of a 15 year old who was in an abusive relationship is facing a criminal sentence after she was reported to police by her GP for buying abortion pills for her daughter. In recent years police have raided women’s houses for such pills and in 2016, a student received a suspended sentence for taking abortion pills at home after her flatmates reported her.
International bodies have repeatedly challenged the UK for this abuse of the human rights of the women in Northern Ireland. This week alone The UN Committee on Torture has condemned us. Our own Supreme Court has said it is a violation. Yet this Government hides behind devolution to justify the denial of human rights; putting keeping themselves in coalition with the DUP ahead of treating all UK citizens equally.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The 1861 Act is a UK piece of legislation made in Westminster- and the solution to this injustice lies in Westminster.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being debated in Parliament. Right now it will not extend to Northern Ireland. If the UK Government chose to remove this artificial restriction, it could be used to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Until this happens women and girls in Northern Ireland will continue to suffer – and words of support for the women of Alabama and Georgia will ring hollow.
The women and girls of Northern Ireland need deeds not words. Now.
We refuse to accept a Domestic Abuse Bill which doesn’t cover Northern Ireland. We call upon the UK Government to take immediate action to remove this restriction and grant us the opportunity to ensure women in Northern Ireland the equal rights to other UK citizens to a safe, legal and local abortion.”