One kingdom, two systems

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At one point this particular individual considered ways in which she could injure herself sufficiently to end the pregnancy but feared she would die and leave her children motherless. Thankfully, an English organisation called the Abortion Support Network allowed her to avoid the horror or a late stage abortion by providing her with a grant to have the procedure earlier. Although grateful for their support the feeling of sneaking around has left her feeling demeaned and angry at her government and the place she calls home. She is not alone in this.

Organisations like the Abortion Support Network, with a rotating volunteer staff of 60 are able to provide much needed emotional and financial support to some of these women. There is no criteria to be met. As Clarke rightly points out. If those who can afford it need not justify themselves, why should they expect those without to do so? There are also individuals who offer their homes to the charity to help these women when they arrive, offering warm food and a safe caring place to stay whilst they go through the procedure. The existence of such people is vital. Some of these women are so scared about being discovered that they arrive with little more than the clothes on their back. The mental health repercussions of such an experience can be profound. The need for psychological, emotional and physical support (whether a pregnancy is kept or terminated) is crucial. It is depressing and maddening to read about the efforts that are made to compound the distress of these women.

There has been some decline in the numbers of women coming to England for terminations in recent years which is largely due to the arrival of medical abortion tablets. Organisations have sprung up from unlikely places such as the Netherlands (Women on Web) to assist women in Ireland and Northern Ireland in procuring these pills. But this is not a straightforward solution, as packets are routinely seized by the postal services (especially in Ireland). To pursue this option is a gamble for as the woman waits for her pills to arrive the pregnancy continues to advance. Should it fail to arrive, her options become more expensive and riskier. It says something perhaps that such pills are readily available on the open market in much of Asia (Women on Web sources medication from a partner organisation in India) which houses some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

It seems an odd thing that the Northern Ireland Government will permit women to go abroad for a termination and yet pursue those that cannot afford to do so with such rabid sanctimony. It’s an odd ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ philosophy that feels confused and incoherent. It is a good thing that such acts aren’t criminalised, but accepting one and not the other, makes the self-righteousness a little hollow. In all of this it is the women with the least resources who will suffer most. The ones who have money will always have options open to them. In this, the matter becomes one of social justice.

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