Natika Halil is Executive Director of FPA, the UK sexual health charity, IPPF EN Member Association
On 30 June 2017 we saw a landmark decision for women’s rights, with the British government finally agreeing to rectify a historic injustice and fund abortion services for women travelling from Northern Ireland to England. Previously women from Northern Ireland have had to pay sums that could amount to thousands of pounds to avoid being coerced into continuing with a pregnancy, while their sisters in Great Britain received the treatment on the NHS.
FPA, the UK sexual health charity and IPPF member, has been fighting for the rights of Northern Irish women for many years. Through our counselling services in Northern Ireland, every day we see women whose first desperate thought is how they are going manage such a huge, unanticipated expense. It often means they and their loved ones have to disclose their very private and personal situation, in order to borrow the necessary funds. So this small but significant change will make a real difference to women facing unintended pregnancies. But although we welcome this development, it’s one small leap in the fight for the reproductive freedom of Northern Irish women. Equality with their fellow UK women is still distant.
In Northern Ireland, a Victorian law system continues to bully women, wishing to coerce them into pregnancy or force them to travel across the sea, away from home and their loved ones for no reason.
The law in Northern Ireland is one of the most regressive in Europe, forcing a child who has been raped or a woman devastated by a pre-natal diagnosis of a fatal abnormality to go through a heart-breaking pregnancy against their will.
I was heartened last week, when I joined staff and volunteers from 35 countries across Europe and Central Asia at the IPPF European Network, to hear of the many strides that are being made – in ensuring that children are sexually and emotionally literate through quality relationships and sexuality education, in advancing gay rights, in reclaiming Europe as a caring and progressive continent, pushing back against populism and social conservatism.
On the same day, 30 June, German politicians voted in favour of equality marriage. Recently, the Citizen’s Assembly in the Republic of Ireland made far reaching proposals that would allow women to make their own choices, supported by their doctors and those who love them.
Soon Northern Ireland may find itself in a very lonely place amongst developed nations. Women without the means or ability to travel will continue to be either coerced into continuing with a pregnancy or to risk prosecution through buying illegal pills online. This is not acceptable in 2017, and I am proud to say that FPA will keep fighting until no woman is bullied into a choice she did not make.
Join the fight for free, safe, legal abortion in Northern Ireland: #TimeForChange