Sophie Turner’s ignorance of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws shows how flawed celebrity allyship can be

It may help a cause when famous people speak out, but while they have a platform, the pro-choice campaigners have a whole movement behind them and truly understand what’s at stake

Nic Murray
Monday 03 June 2019 07:33 BST
Sophie Turner won't work in anti abortion states

Press tours for feature films can be tiring at the best of times for all involved. Cramped in a small media room for hours on end, various journalists do their best to eke out quotes and heavily media-managed actors give little away in return. This week, however, it was striking that during a interview with Sky News, X-Men: Dark Phoenix actor Sophie Turner announced a strong political stance: that she would be supporting the film industry boycott of Georgia in light of the state’s new restrictive abortion laws.

Mid-interview, Turner, the former Game of Thrones actor, laughs as she says she has yet to tell her agent, but that she would be joining her X-Men co-star Jessica Chastain in signing a statement boycotting any state where hard-won women’s rights are being rewritten.

The interviewer then interjects, remarking that “obviously Northern Ireland has similar laws … there was a lot of work for Game of Thrones there, wasn’t there?” She somewhat stumbles over a response, concluding “luckily we’re moving on”.

Much of the public online remained unconvinced by this response, pulling out the same gotchas as seen in the interview and highlighting the hypocrisy of a British woman not having come out in support of abortion rights for Northern Ireland after a decade filming there.

Others took aim at Chastain who, they argued, clearly seemed unconcerned with the country’s strict abortion laws when she filmed Miss Julie there in 2014.

What few acknowledged, however, was that, among other regions, Game of Thrones also filmed in Malta, a country with just as strict legislation and substantially more conservative views on abortion. A 2018 survey found that only 12 per cent agreed with abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in limited cases. Even when a mother’s life is in danger, less than half of those surveyed stated they would agree with abortion.

In contrast, 80 per cent of the Northern Irish public believe that a woman should have the choice of an abortion when her health is at risk, and two thirds think that abortion should be decriminalised.

The majority of the Northern Irish population support abortion, however, it has been the government (from Harriet Harman blocking a vote to liberalise abortion laws in 2008 to Penny Mordaunt continually citing respect for devolution as a reason for inaction) that has repeatedly let them down.

If Turner were to extend her support beyond the States, would it be of most use to a country like Malta where abortion is a publicly unspeakable and politically untouchable subject or should it stop at Northern Ireland? That is not a question that she should have to answer, but one we should consider ourselves when we see hundreds of people demanding greater support from from a young actor.

That many of those chastising Turner forgot to mention the current plight of Maltese abortion rights is just an example of how, even among those deeply embedded in campaigns, international solidarity can sometimes be imperfect, the voices of some may be amplified while others are left behind.

Sadly, being left behind is something that has been far too common for people in Northern Ireland, which makes recent events in states like Georgia and Alabama all the more painful to watch.

Seeing anyone have their hard-won rights eroded is difficult, but especially when you know that the UK press will give them more coverage than the long-standing draconian laws in place in one of its own countries.

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While people’s attention is on the issue of abortion, it gives a brief chance to demand people stay as outraged about abortion laws within the UK. In the aftermath of the anti-choice bill being signed into law in Alabama the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) reported that up to hundreds of people an hour were emailing their MP asking them to act to end similarly cruel and barbaric legislation in Northern Ireland.

It can be heartening and may help a cause when celebrities speak out, but while celebrities have a platform, pro-choice campaigners have a whole movement behind them and know clearly the target of their rage.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the government’s own Women and Equalities Select Committee have argued that current law in Northern Ireland breaches human rights and in the absence of a functioning Stormont the government must act.

Hypocrisy is not an actor speaking out about the laws of a country in which she first started filming at the age of 13. True hypocrisy is politicians such as Penny Mordaunt giving a speech stating that “Leadership means not shying away from issues like safe abortion when the evidence shows us these services will save women’s lives” and then refusing to take action for Northern Ireland – it is that which we should always ensure to challenge and call out.

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