Pro-life report claims 100,000 people "alive today" thanks to Northern Irish abortion ban

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said laws criminalising women for taking abortion pills are "absolutely barbaric"

An anti-abortion campaign group has said that 100,000 people in Northern Ireland are alive today because legislation legalising abortion in the UK was never enacted in the region.

Similar to the Republic, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland where it can be proven that there is a direct threat to the mother’s life.

Currently, terminations are not allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a woman has been a victim of sexual crime.

Hundreds of Northern Irish women are forced to travel to England to terminate pregnancies every year due to the laws.

Both Lives Matter

The Both Lives Matter report released today claims that “using a statistically cautious approach” there are 100,000 people alive today who would not be here had the 1967 Abortion Act in Britain been extended to Northern Ireland.

The group behind the report said it is not possible to provide a definitive figure for the number of abortions that may or may not have occurred over the fifty year period - however, the authors said they have calculated a “credible and conservative estimate.”

The report provides an eight-stage calculation method to illustrate how they arrived at the figure.

Both Lives Matter spokesperson Dawn McAvoy said the abortion debate is in danger of becoming “polarised” with the rights of the child opposing the rights of the mother.

“The reality is that both lives matter,” she said. “We want to create a life-affirming culture that values each woman and her unborn child where compassion, solidarity and support for both lives is the norm.”

“We hope that Northern Ireland will not fall for the modern myth that progress on women’s rights should be measured by the ability to end the life of their own children.

“We believe that the Northern Ireland abortion law is progressive, compassionate and humane - something to celebrate.”

Denied the right to choose

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) told Newstalk that if you take the maths behind the calculation at face value, “what you are looking at is potentially 100,000 women denied the ability to make their own decisions when faced with an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy they felt was not right to continue with.”

“Women obviously make the absolute best of the situation they find themselves in but I don’t believe that compelling a woman to continue a pregnancy that she knows in her heart is not right to continue is a cause for celebration.”

She said the “great flaw” with the calculations is that the figures do not take into account the people who are alive now “precisely thanks to abortion.”

“People who are with us because their mothers were able to make decisions about when it was right to have a child,” she said. “When they felt able to provide a child with the life and security it deserved.”

Fatal foetal abnormalities

In late 2015, a High Court judge in Belfast ruled that Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation breaches the human rights of women and is “incompatible” with international human rights laws.

The ruling is being challenged by the region’s attorney general.

David Ford of the Alliance Party, 28-Oct-2016. Image: Brian Lawless PA Wire/PA Images

The former Northern Justice Minister confirmed this week that he will re-submit a bill calling for the legalisation of abortion in the case of fatal-foetal abnormalities should he be re-elected following the upcoming Stormont elections.

Alliance MLA, David Ford said the proposals would, “help end the trauma of women suffering fatal foetal abnormalities.”

“As evidenced by the wide-ranging consultation carried out by the Department of Justice while I was Minister, the public desire in Northern Ireland is clearly one for change to the law,” he said.

Travelling for abortion

According to figures from the Department of Health in England and Wales - 833 Northern Irish women travelled across the water to have a termination in 2015.

Reproductive and sexual health service providers have noted the figures may be significantly underestimated as many women provide a false address when travelling.

UK Department of Health figures show 3,451 women travelled from the Republic of Ireland to Britain to access abortion services in 2015.

“I think the point for both Ireland and Northern Ireland is exactly the same,” said Ms Murphy. “You can ban abortion all you like but it doesn’t stop women having abortions, it simply puts them in the most horrendous of circumstances.

She said the journey to England often comes at huge personal cost in a financial sense but warned there is also an “emotional cost to feel exiled from your own country at a time when you need to be at home.”

“That has a huge effect on women,” she said. “Or you force them to take their health into their own hands by buying pills online.”

A criminal offence

Abortion laws in the north are currently governed by the 1861 Offences against the Person Act - making it a criminal offence - potentially punishable by life in prison - for any woman to induce her own miscarriage.

In April of last year a 21-year-old woman in Belfast received a suspended sentence for obtaining abortion pills online because she could not afford to travel to England.

Nobody in the Republic has ever been prosecuted for obtaining or using abortion pills, however under section 22 of the protection of life during pregnancy act 2013, the intentional destruction of an unborn human life is an offence, " liable on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, or both."

Under the act, a prosecution under section 22 can only be brought "by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions." 

“This is almost unheard of - certainly in Europe - the idea that you would punish a woman for taking abortion medicine,” said Ms Murphy. “We think these laws are absolutely barbaric, they put women in an awful position and we are very much campaigning for these laws to be overturned.”