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Support abortion rights for Northern Ireland

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#PENNYPOST, Penny Morduant, Alliance for Choice, letter, abortion law, Northern Ireland, Those needing an abortion after being raped could face a longer prison sentence than their attacker.

Alliance for Choice launched a social media campaign last week asking people in Northern Ireland to write to the Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, urging her to support abortion rights for the women of Northern Ireland.

Abortion in Northern Ireland is punishable by up to life in prison, with no exception for rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

The legal basis for the effective ban on abortion is a Westminster law; Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

The UN has called the law – and the refusal of Westminster to act – a ‘grave and systematic violation’ of human rights.

And the UK Supreme Court has been clear that the current law treats women as ‘vehicles’, is ‘untenable’ and is in need of ‘radical reconsideration’.

Currently those who need an abortion after being raped could face a longer prison sentence than their attacker.

And between March 2018 and July 2018, 342 women and girls travelled from Northern Ireland to England to access abortion – 28 women a week, including at least one 12 year-old.

The UK government argues that chaneg is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly alone to address.

But last week, Northern Ireland broke the record for the longest time a state has been without an elected government – now over 533 days with no Assembly or Executive in place.

There is cross-party support for repealing the relevant sections of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 so that medical regulation, rather than criminal legislation, can determine the conditions under which an abortion is legal.

But Westminster’s failure to act on the abortion issue means that in the absence of a functioning Assembly, the courts are the only way of changing the law – and this raises the prospect that one victim of rape will be required to take the government to court herself over her rights.

A recent study by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) highlighted the impact of this lack of an Executive on the women’s sector, with one statement noting that: ‘Lobbying without an executive is an echo chamber. MPs see all issues as devolved even though we have no functioning government.’

Emma Campbell, from Alliance for Choice, said: ‘In less than one month’s time we will be in the Supreme Court because the Northern Irish justice system arrested a woman for helping her 15 year old daughter, who was in an abusive relationship, access abortion pills online.

“Alliance for Choice continues to receive calls from desperate people who can’t travel, worried that accessing abortion pills online will see them arrested.

“Ignoring us will not make the problem go away.

“We refuse to stand down on asking to be treated as human beings and not incubators.

“We have been let down by our representatives who either refuse to take seat in Parliament or refuse to acknowledge the public will in NI for change.

“We are being denied our democratic right to be properly represented on top of being denied basic control over our own bodies.

“Westminster has the power to make this change.”

How to take part:

Please write a handwritten letter to Penny Mordaunt MP, the Minister for Women and Equalities to express your views on abortion, and to ask Westminster to stop standing by and to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

Take a photo of your letter, and post it on social media using the hashtag #PENNYPOST.

Best take a photo of the letter from above, or of you holding the letter – but make sure we can see what it says. If you are not comfortable with your name being public, please do not include it in the photograph.

Once you have photographed the letter, please post it to: Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Women and Equalities, Government Equalities Office, Sanctuary Buildings, 16-20 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT

Letters to Penny Mordaunt can be viewed on Instagram and Twitter using the campaign hashtag #PENNYPOST.

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