Former Conservative Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, has suggested that the increase in influence of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the Westminster Parliament after the general election could lead to a revival of debates on reducing the time limit to accessing abortion in the UK.
Humanists UK has joined an alliance of other pro-choice organisations aligned with Voice for Choice, of which Humanists UK is a member, in publishing an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May which calls for a categorical assurances that restricting abortion rights will not form part of any deal struck with the DUP. Voice for Choice members stressed that the current prohibition on abortion in Northern Ireland was ruled to be incompatible with human rights law by High Court Judge Mr Justice Horner in 2015. The letter urges the Prime Minister not to turn her back on women’s rights and to support a bill to fully decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy within this parliament.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act which allows women in England, Scotland, and Wales access to safe, legal abortions in certain circumstances, including if two doctors agreed that continuing the pregnancy would pose a risk to the mother’s life or have an adverse affect on her mental or physical health. Outside of these circumstances, a woman seeking an abortion is committing a criminal offence under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and could face imprisonment for life. The Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland and women there face prosecution for seeking an abortion in nearly all circumstances. The DUP is committed to retaining these restrictions in Northern Ireland, forcing vulnerable women to either travel to the rest of the UK to receive private medical care or to risk prosecution by purchasing online abortion pills.
Humanists UK Director of Policy and Public Affairs Richy Thompson commented, ‘Humanists UK is concerned by comments made by Owen Paterson. We urge the Prime Minister to consider the position of women’s sexual and reproductive rights as a non-negotiable issue when brokering any deal with the DUP. We will continue to work tirelessly with members of Voice for Choice and other ‘pro-choice’ groups to ensure that new time limits are not imposed upon women in England, Scotland and Wales and will continue to campaign for equal access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0781 55 89 636, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on email@example.com or on 07470 395090
Read the open letter:
Read more on our campaigns around abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/
At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.
Humanists UK is a member of the steering group of Voice for Choice, the national pro-choice coalition, and a supporter of the We Trust Women and Back Off campaigns. Northern Ireland Humanists, which is a part of Humanists UK, is represented on the steering group of Trust Women NI, the campaign coalition seeking abortion law reform in Northern Ireland.
Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/