One kingdom, two systems

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It seems incredible to think that in one part of the United Kingdom the life of its citizens can be so different from the rest. I refer of course to Northern Ireland. It may come as surprise to you that our legal systems are not entirely uniform. One striking point of divergence is the law governing abortion. Northern Ireland has some of the strictest abortions laws in the world. It seems even pregnancy resulting from forced incest, rape or even serious foetal abnormality has no bearing on whether a woman will be permitted an abortion. I mention these three circumstances for emotional impact rather than to suggest that abortion should be limited in such a way. There are many reasons why a women might choose to have an abortion and such decisions are seldom taken lightly. A law that makes such an emotionally difficult time even more so is not one I can support.

Such draconian laws (an illegal abortion is an offence that carries a life sentence of 14 years) do not stop women seeking advice from medical clinics within Northern Ireland or procuring an abortion in the United Kingdom. To those that would suggest that the obvious solution is to travel are missing the point. The cost of a round trip, depending on the length of stay (complications do occasionally occur) can run into hundreds of pounds (more if you wish to have someone accompany you for moral support). Women from Northern Ireland are not eligible for abortions on the NHS. The financial burden can spiral out of control to someone without the means to pay it. Such considerations, the worry of an extra night in a hotel or the fear of missing more work, often result in such women heading back mere hours after the procedure, ignoring the doctors instruction not to travel back by boat or plane that night because of the unpredictability of the bleeding that results from a medical abortion. These are real fears and yet they fail to account for the emotional burden of undergoing such an ordeal. No doubt these women already wrestle with feelings of guilt and shame. In such a fragile state, support is what is needed not a ferry trip and the threat of stigmatisation when they return.Such fears have led some women to attempt to induce an auto-abortion (the methods have varying but deadly degrees of danger) and failing this sometimes (especially amongst the young) attempts on their own life. I realise to talk in such terms runs the risk of sensationalising such an issue. We don’t need to do that to see the transparent injustice of this law.

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