Although only one-third of British people are aware that it is impossible for the average woman in Northern Ireland to have an abortion, a number of significant cases across the Irish Sea have raised the profile of this struggle. A landmark ruling – though undoubtedly welcome – serves primarily as a reminder of just how far there is to go.
A High Court judge ruled that the ban on abortions for women carrying babies with fatal abnormalities, or who have been victims of rape or incest, amounted to a breach of human rights. That it has taken this long to reach such a pass is disturbing. The Abortion Act of 1967 has never applied to Northern Ireland, and with most of Stormont distinctly pro-life, there is little prospect of extending the process of liberation towards women who would seek an abortion in less extreme circumstances.
This leaves only those that can afford between £400 and £2,000, on top of the cost of travel, to have a private procedure in England. About 40 women a week leave Northern Ireland to follow this route. The status quo simply forces poorer women to have babies they do not want or cannot afford, while their richer peers can exercise the freedom that should be taken for granted in any developed nation.
The slight liberalisation over abortion promised by the High Court – though still far from offering the freedom and equality that many women in Northern Ireland desire – came on the same day as Pirelli announced it would no longer run nude pictures in its famous (or infamous, depending on one’s perspective) calendar. Coming just months after The Sun started covering up its Page 3 models, this marks no insignificant victory for feminism. But the abortion debate is a reminder there are still serious and long-standing battles to be fought on the path to women’s liberation. Attention should focus on what politics has yet to achieve.
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