The last year, 2018, has seen an increased focus on abortion law in Northern Ireland. For those of us who have been continuing to progress the Both Lives Matter campaign message, a message that is pro-both, that doesn’t pit a woman against her preborn child, it has been a year with many highs and lows.
We began the year with a very successful fundraising dinner which was focused on highlighting the need to advance our care services for women and families facing crisis pregnancies.
Straight after our uplifting event we faced the campaign in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution, a campaign that tragically led to the removal of existing legal protections for women and unborn children and ushered in new abortion legislation, the consequences of which are yet to be seen.
Since the Referendum in the Republic of Ireland the focus on abortion law in Northern Ireland intensified and you will no doubt have been aware of the media coverage, television, newsprint, radio, all focused on the so-called “need” to change the law on abortion in NI.
As I was considering all that has happened during the year, I began to think about the fact that we, in Both Lives Matter, have been a voice consistently calling for better help and support for women who face crisis pregnancies. We have heard women when they told us that they didn’t want to abort their child, but in difficult circumstances felt they’d no other choice. That is why we challenge the false narrative that says “choice” equals the freedom to end our unborn baby’s life. We have emphasised that true “choice” lies in enhanced support services; in housing for homeless pregnant women; in dedicated care pathways for women who have been told that their unborn baby may die before or shortly after birth; in affordable childcare; in flexible working hours; in more effective education on relationships, pregnancy and childbirth; and in increased commitment to ensuring our maternity services are the best that they can be, for the benefit of all in our wee country of NI.
Who is listening?
Unfortunately, here in NI, we have no functioning Executive at Stormont so decision-making on these crucial issues that affect us day-to-day is severely impacted and limited.
In Westminster, an onslaught of pro-choice and pro-abortion MPs, who live in a culture where abortions take place daily at the rate of 1 every 3 minutes, almost seem to have made it their end goal to force change on the people of NI. And when I say change, I mean legalising abortion access but not enhancing support and care services.
In the Republic of Ireland, they have pushed through legislation after repealing the 8th amendment at a speed which has caused many heads to turn.
And none of this has had any focus on providing the best care and support services to women and families.
Is any of this a big deal really?
Yes, it is. We often talk about the trinity of law, culture and services and Both Lives Matter is a campaign that is built on this foundation, a foundation that demonstrates that a life-affirming culture is created by life-affirming laws, which thankfully we do have here in NI, and life-enabling services.
But why should we be worried about Westminster MPs if our devolved government controls our laws on abortion?
As I pointed out earlier, we currently do not have a sitting Executive at Stormont, and organisations such as Amnesty International and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are using this as an excuse to heavily lobby MPs at Westminster to impose a change in our law on abortion. The vast majority of our sitting MPs have spoken out against this which we are thankful for, but we note the unremitting effort of those organisations who demand abortion for NI. They are ignoring the people of Northern Ireland, of which we know from recent polling 63% want to see NI laws on abortion decided by elected NI politicians not Westminster MPs. They are turning to politicians who do not live here, who do not understand our culture, and who do not listen to our voices when we say we don’t want their version of change.
However, we do expect a change; change that brings about better care services and improves the wellbeing of every woman and every child – born and unborn.
But we are told by “celebrities” that we are being ruled by “misogynistic” politicians, with “archaic” laws. We are told by British MPs that we should be brought “forward”, in line with the rest of GB – without the irony of noting almost 9 million lives have been lost to abortion in GB since 1967. We believe the outworking of the 1967 Abortion Act in GB is regressive, not progressive.
Women in NI apparently need these voices to “free” us, to free us so that we can have the ability to end our unborn babies’ lives. What happens when a woman from NI objects to this so-called freedom? She is marginalised, told her opinion doesn’t count because it is not the “correct” opinion. So much for the “Trust Women” mantra – the truth is that those who shout this slogan only “trust women” who agree with them.
And what are these British MPs doing about care service provision? Diana Johnson MP and others object when organisations such as Life Charity UK are awarded grant money to provide accommodation for homeless pregnant women in London; they demand the money be with-held; they ignore invitations from representatives of Both Lives Matter who fly from Belfast to London seeking discussions; and they disparage the efforts of pro-life groups by giving misinformation on the floor of the House of Commons, for example Rupa Huq MP gave incorrect information about the unborn baby’s development in uterine, as she attempted to discredit pro-life voices who seek to educate the public on this particular issue. In short, throughout all the moments this year that abortion law in NI has been the centre of Westminster debate, we have heard little mention of counselling or care services from those who seek to impose abortion legislation on NI. Worse still, when those MPs who support our current law speak about counselling, care services and the 100,000 lives lived due to NI law they get shouted down and ridiculed.
Organisations such as Amnesty International, and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, want to make 2019 the year widespread access to abortion comes to Northern Ireland. This pro-abortion narrative ensures that women and unborn children remain in a tug of war of rights. If unborn children are protected then women lose out. And vice versa. It sometimes feels like we are a voice crying in the wilderness.
However, because Both Lives Matter, we imagine a people & place that values the life & health of women and unborn children and pursues the wellbeing of both.
We want a more progressive, more hopeful, more human approach – a better story.
In a tug of war someone always ends up in the dirt. It’s time to stop playing games; we’re on the same team. So, what if you weren’t being asked to choose a side, but instead are being asked to stand with both?
So let’s make 2019 the year that NI sees enhanced counselling and care service provision for all women and families in their pregnancy journey, but especially those facing crisis pregnancies. 2019 can be the year that NI stands firm, demands better services and defends its life-affirming law and culture, ensuring that more lives are added to the 100,000 already being lived in NI because we refuse to choose abortion.
With thanks to Marion Woods; Marion is spokesperson for LifeNI and Both Lives Matter, and is regularly heard on local and national media, advocating for better care services for women facing pregnancy crisis. LifeNI are one of the founding partners of the Both Lives Matter campaign.