A UN committee report published today makes for unhappy reading for one of Northern Ireland’s most outspoken anti-abortionists, Nola Leach, above, Chief Executive of a Christian outfit called Care.
Last year, Leach wrote:
As the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act looms it is time to consider the effect that is has had on our society. If 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland because it didn’t embrace the ’67 Act then perhaps it’s time we ask the question: how many people would be alive in Great Britain today had the Act not been introduced here in England, Scotland and Wales?
Just how different would our communities look? How many stadiums would be overflowing with these lives?
This is a great opportunity to revisit the 1967 Act. The truth is we need legislative reform, but instead of Northern Ireland following Great Britain, Great Britain should be embracing Northern Ireland’s positive, life-affirming example.
However, according to this report, the UN insists that UK is breaching the rights of women in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion,
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women says:
Denial of abortion and criminalisation of abortion amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need. It puts women in horrific situations.
Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are much stricter than the rest of the UK. An abortion is only allowed if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a serious or permanent risk to her mental health.
Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which an abortion can be performed legally.
The breach of women’s rights are “grave and systematic” because the existing law means women have to travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion or to carry a pregnancy to term, the report says.
It concludes that a restriction preventing women from exercising reproductive choice involves mental and physical suffering.
The report makes 13 recommendations – including the repeal of the criminal sanction on abortion contained in the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
One of the recommendations is that terminations should be allowed in cases of sexual crime and fatal foetal abnormality and when there is a threat to a woman’s health without “permanency” being a condition.
The committee consists of 23 experts on women’s rights from around the world.
Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International, called on the government to introduce abortion reform at Westminster:
Without delay. The UN Committee is very clear that it is the UK government which is responsible for ensuring that our laws are in line with the state’s international human rights obligations.
Devolution – even if functioning – does not relieve the UK government of their responsibility to uphold human rights in Northern Ireland.
Leach reacted to the report by saying:
Northern Ireland’s current legislation on abortion provides support for the unborn child; we should not seek to undermine or remove that protection.
A Supreme Court judgment considering whether abortion law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with international human rights is expected shortly.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) said it would update the Supreme Court on the UN’s findings.
Said NIHRC chief commissioner Les Allamby.
Today’s report is timely as the commission is waiting for the outcome of our own legal challenge.