UK and Ireland student movements call for abortion rights in Northern Ireland

At a meeting in London today of all the student movements in the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland NUS, USI and NUS-USI have released a joint statement calling for provisions to deliver free, safe and legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland. The trilateral meeting involving these three student movements has today backed NUS-USI’s #TrustUs campaign on abortion rights in Northern Ireland.  The #TrustUs campaign has been inspired by the Home to V8te campaign, which NUS-USI co-ordinated regarding the Repeal the 8th referendum and Alliance for Choice’s #AbortionRightsNI campaign.


NUS-USI Women’s Officer Rachel Watters said: “I am very pleased that the trilateral group comprising the student movements across the UK and Ireland have released a statement in solidarity with the campaign in Northern Ireland for free safe and legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland.


“Every day that passes without this provision sees more people in Northern Ireland facing tremendous stress, isolation and stigma as a result of the ongoing failure to deliver comprehensive reproductive rights here.”


NUS President Shakira Martin, USI President Síona Cahill and NUS-USI President Olivia Potter-Hughes said: “We collectively support NUS-USI’s #TrustUs campaign. We believe that access to abortion is a human right and that the bodily autonomy of every pregnant person should be respected.


“We are calling on the Westminster parliament to legislate for free, safe, legal and local abortion services in Northern Ireland immediately. We urge MPs of all parties to vote in favour of Diana Johnson’s bill to decriminalise abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on 23rd October. We call on MPs to engage with the ‘Now for NI’ campaign from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Abortion Support Network newsletter, in order to learn about the experiences of people who have been denied abortions in Northern Ireland. To insist that devolution demands that the status quo on abortion in Northern Ireland continue for an indefinite period of time is unacceptable: Westminster has a duty to intervene to uphold human rights throughout the UK.


“We campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion in the North of Ireland and not the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act.


“We do not want a referendum on abortion in Northern Ireland.


“The law which criminalises abortion in Northern Ireland (the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act) can be reformed by the ordinary legislative process in Northern Ireland Assembly or the UK Parliament under direct rule. No referendum is required.


“We are calling for this change because abortion is available in Northern Ireland only where there is a risk to the life or long term mental or physical health of the pregnant person, which excludes cases where there is a fatal foetal abnormality or a pregnancy resulting from sexual crime. In most circumstances, abortion is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA).


“Keeping abortion illegal in Northern Ireland does not stop Northern Irish/Irish people in the North of Ireland from having abortions elsewhere, it just makes abortion less safe and more difficult to access.


“The criminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland deters people from accessing aftercare, for fear of being reported to the PSNI if they disclose that they induced an abortion with medication.


“In 2015, 1,438 women and pregnant people in NI purchased abortion pills online from just one provider (Women on Web).


“In February 2018, CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) urged the UK government as the state party to act urgently to reform the abortion law in Northern Ireland as the law currently constitutes a grave violation of human rights. Surveys consistently demonstrate that a majority of people in Northern Ireland, regardless of their party political affiliation, support abortion reform. The trilateral group of student movements across the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland is calling for urgent government action on this matter to deliver free safe and legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland.”

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