I would commend the one hundred women who have “shouted out loud” and signed an open letter in protest at the abortion law amendment that is proposed here – it has been noted, proposed by all-male politicians – which would make it illegal to perform an abortion outside the NHS. The proposed amendment under consideration comes following the opening of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast last October.
The letter was powerfully discussed by Goretti Horgan, signatory and Alliance for Choice member, on Radio 4 this morning and across news programmes and websites.
The Manifesto of the 343 in France, published in “Le nouvel observateur” on 5 April 1971, was a similar act of civil disobedience, signed by 343 women, including Simone de Beauvoir, Christiane Rochefort, Françoise Sagan, Colette Audry, Violette Leduc, Gisèle Halimi and others. The text (translated) read:
“A million women have abortions in France each year. Because they are condemned to secrecy, they are aborted under dangerous conditions. If done under medical control, this operation is one of the simplest. These millions of women have been passed over in silence. I declare that I am one of them. I have had an abortion. Just as we demand free access to birth-control methods, we demand freedom to have abortions.”
France legalized abortion just two years later; women’s voices were finally heard.
I admire the courage of the 100 women – and men – who have signed today’s open letter and hope that women’s freedoms over their own bodies and choices are not further curtailed in Northern Ireland. Women’s rights are, most fundamentally, at stake, here.
The rights of migrants and refugees are the usual focus of my posts at this website. In fact, the issue of freedom of choices for women is not so very disconnected, as it clearly affects women immigrants to Northern Ireland too, in ways which I know are not merely hypothetical. Women fleeing persecution from another country to claim asylum in Northern Ireland may be pregnant upon arrival, or become pregnant here, for many different reasons, sometimes for sad or disturbing reasons. Such women may not be free to travel to England for an abortion, due to destitution or poverty, due to language difficulties, or due to difficulties in travel itself, because they do not have any documentation required by airlines and boats (as it is very common for refugees to flee their home without possessing identity documentation, as they could not approach their national authority for a passport, had to leave urgently or had to leave in a clandestine way).
Clearly, similar difficulties are also faced by local women, and Goretti Horgan has eloquently made clear the links between austerity policies and social welfare cuts, and the difficult choices made by women in some of the interviews broadcast today.
Here is the text of the open letter:
We, the undersigned, have either taken the abortion pill or helped women to procure the abortion pill in order to cause an abortion here in Northern Ireland. We represent just a small fraction of those who have used, or helped others to use, this method because it is almost impossible to get an NHS abortion here, even when there is likely to be a legal entitlement to one. We know that Stormont Ministers and the Public Prosecution Service are aware that such abortions have been taking place in the region for some years, but are unwilling to prosecute for a range of reasons, at least partly to do with not wanting an open debate around the issue of when women here should have a right to abortion.