British feminists are right to oppose Trump, but Northern Irish women need solidarity too

Northern Irish women are still denied access to abortion


Today, President Trump will be inaugurated. The potential ramifications for North America and the world are many and severe.

Within the United States, the fear factor is particularly strong for anyone who is not a white, straight man; women, non-binary and transgender people and ethnic minorities face four years of a presidency that not only disrespects them, but which also seeks to actively harm them.

Within the United Kingdom, British feminists are offering support to American women. On Saturday, in cities across the UK — including in Belfast, where I currently live — rallies will take place in solidarity with US women, most specifically in support of reproductive rights. Trump has made it clear that he wants to defund Planned Parenthood.

Support from women in Great Britain, has emerged in the form of a financial support fund, called UK Friends of Planned Parenthood. Launched by Helena Horton of the Telegraph at the end of 2016, it seeks to raise funds for the organisation.  

Last night, the first fundraiser was held, on a boat on the Thames. Speakers included several MPs, Jane Garvery, of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party. Over £4000 was raised, the event page states, ‘for reproductive rights across the pond, now they’re under threat.’

I commend the women involved; feminism should be international. However, it should also be intersectional. It troubles me as a Northern Irish woman, who is denied bodily autonomy, that the plight of women across a much smaller pond, has never received such levels of support from the mainstream feminist movement in Britain.

This is not to say women in Great Britain shouldn’t be fundraising for American women, and it’s easy to see why many would feel more connection to the USA than Northern Ireland; the former is a dynamic world power, the latter, an often misunderstood and marginalised region of the UK, which is most strongly associated with violence and sectarianism. But it’s frustrating that we — and women in the Republic of Ireland, who also face harsh laws — are so ignored.

The denial of abortion rights in Northern Ireland is not new — the 1967 Abortion Act has never been extended here.

The participants in the Troubles, across illegal groups and State organisations, were predominately male and this has contributed to the silencing and sidelining of women’s issues and experiences within Northern Ireland. While bombs and bullets ravaged Ireland, and frequently reached Britain, it’ is logical that abortion was not high on the British government’’s agenda.

It’ is only within the last year that the British media has highlighted the injustice in any considerable manner, most notably via the Guardian’s call for Northern Irish women to be afforded the same rights as women in the rest of the UK.

Notably, Nicola Sturgeon’s recent commitment to investigate whether Scotland could provide NHS abortions to women from Northern Ireland, in response to Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens question in the Scottish Parliament on the matter, is to be welcomed.

Media coverage is important for raising awareness but it can do little to materially help women who face an unwanted pregnancy. In Northern Ireland, a woman or anyone who tries to aid her, can be jailed for procuring an abortion. Just this week, a couple were cautioned for ordering self-inducing pills. In April 2016, a 21 year old woman was given a suspended sentence for having been proved to have carried out her own abortion.

Women can travel, but it becomes a class issue; those with little or no spare money may find themselves in a situation of forced birth and many skip meals or miss bills to be try and afford the costs of travel, accommodation and the procedure itself (the NHS only pays the costs for women living in Britain). Total costs can range from a few hundred pounds to over two thousand.

Let’’s fight for the reproductive rights of American women, but not forget that within our own country, women are denied bodily autonomy and face huge financial barriers, to accessing what should be, a matter of healthcare.

Kylie Noble is a freelance journalist, currently based in Belfast. She is a graduate of the University of Sheffield and Queen’s University Belfast. 

See also: Women in London are marching against Trump. Here’s why

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6 Responses to “British feminists are right to oppose Trump, but Northern Irish women need solidarity too”

  1. Jimmy Glesga

    That is what you get in NI when you vote for Catholic Sinn Fein IRA and Protestant DUP etc.

  2. Kieran Bro

    hi Jimmy Glesga thanks for your constructive comment. Thanks for us in NI deserving all of this. Yep, all of us.

  3. Mike Stallard

    I am worried how this will go down in Copeland. Is this what the electors there want to hear?
    Secondly, (yup, I am a Catholic), I am not that sure about abortion. Be careful here. Getting on for a quarter of a million babies are aborted in this country every year. Meanwhile the native population is not producing enough babies to survive. And that affects immigration which apparently is a big issue in Copeland.
    Thirdly, I am worried about what really makes women tick. I would like to say their degrees, their important jobs, their fantastic business and professional skills, and, yes, in some cases, that is totally the reality.
    For an awful lot of others – some in my own family – what matters is actually babies and grandchildren and the family. Even Harriet Harman admitted this when she did not stand for the Labour Leadership in its hour of greatest need..

  4. Mara Clarke

    Making abortion against the law doesn’t stop it – it just makes getting an abortion difficult for those with money and nigh impossible for those who don’t. The cost of travelling from NI to England for an abortion (including discounts offered to NI clients from clinics) is between £400 and £2000. Women who can’t afford that, and who don’t know about Abortion Support Network, a charity that helps fund abortions for those in Ireland, N Ireland and the Isle of Man (full disclosure – I founded it), are either forced to risk criminal proscecution for taking safe but illegal early medical abortion pills purchased from the internet, to do more dangerous things to try and self abort (We hear some horrific things from our clients) or continue pregnancies they do not want. As a parent, I don’t think we should be forcing parenthood on those who do not want it – and who do not have £400-£2000 in the bank. And before we talk about responsibility, every kind of birth control fails, and if your response is “don’t have sex” then I’d ask you to campaign against non-procreative sex, not abortion.

  5. Emma

    Great article, thanks for this. In all honesty I think a lot of women in Scotland, England and Wales are unaware that abortion is still illegal in NI and raising awareness with articles like this will hopefully bring this issue to wider attention and gain the support we need to change this antiquated law.

    I moved to Belfast from England and absolutely love living here, but the antiquated abortion laws trouble me deeply. Even as a woman who actively wants children and would be able to provide for them, the idea that the law here would force me to continue with a pregnancy where the baby couldn’t survive outside the womb is utterly terrifying. I’ve been pregnant (unfortunately I miscarried) and I know how difficult pregnancy is and how much strain it puts on you, both physically and emotionally. To have to go through that for nine months, knowing it would all be for nothing is the worst thing I can imagine.

    Moreover, I find it incredibly inhumane that these self-proclaimed Christians are happy to see a woman forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy – even when that pregnancy is the product of rape, of coercion, of lack of education, even when that pregnancy will lead to the girl being disowned by her family, even when she has been abandoned by the father. The utter cruelty of that kind of thinking is just baffling, and as a Christian myself I can only feel empathy for a woman who wants an abortion – for ANY reason.

  6. Jo

    If you don’t agree with abortion, don’t get one, it’s that simple. But don’t deny other people the rights to their own bodies.

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