Extend the 1967 Abortion Act


Despite the collaboration between the British Government and the DUP preventing the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to the north the struggle for women's right to choose continues…..

Leading up to the Westminster vote, the Alliance for Choice campaign was active across the north organising public meetings, street stalls, a pub quiz and symbolic events such as the '40 women a week' protest outside Belfast city hall with an aim to highlight the fact that politicians here are exporting the 'problem' as over 40 women every week are forced to travel to other parts of the UK to carry out an abortion.

In return for a trade-off, over extending 'anti-terror' internment without trial to 42 days that subsequently failed.

In October, the British Government exercised a time limit on the proposed amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill blocking its discussion and vote. The amendments were proposed by backbench MP’s including Labour party member Diane Abbot.

This denial of women’s right to choose particularly impacts on working-class women who are forced to pay over £2,000 to travel to other parts of the UK such as Liverpool. However, over 80 abortions are still carried out every year in the North. According to the Family Planning Association own guidelines,

“Abortion is only legal in exceptional circumstances – if the life or the mental or physical health of the woman is at serious or grave risk. In the absence of clear guidelines, the law remains ambiguous and the provision of abortion is often determined by the moral views of individual doctors or by un-willingness to test the law.”

In the future, this ambiguity over existing provision plus women here being denied the same reproductive services to their counter-parts leaves open the possibility of legal action under article 8 of the European Commission on Human Rights that enshrines the right to ‘family and private life’.

However, this will require courageous women to utilise the legal route and most importantly a mass movement to support and sustain such efforts.

Similarly, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1982 in the North after Belfast gay rights activist Jeffrey Dudgeon took action on the same basis.

From its inception the alliance for choice campaign has been opposed by all the main political parties and lobby group precious life. The basis of their anti-choice position rested on emotional/moral appeals dressed in religious language to blatant ‘scare-mongering’. Unionist politicians threatened that passing this law would de-stabilising the already fragile ‘peace process'.

Despite the set-back at Westminster, the alliance for choice campaign (that Belfast WSM members and other anarchists such as Organise! have participated in) has been successful in undermining the 'stigma' and 'emotional language' attached to abortion rights amongst the general public to a simple case of women's right to choose. In turn, making the invisible and forgotten, both visible and vocal. Challenging the presence of the anti-choice lobby that have controlled our streets and silenced women rights for far too long.

The latest sample survey by the Family Planning Association, just a couple of days before the unsuccessful motion at Westminster confirmed that over 2/3 of people supported abortion in certain circumstances such as rape and incest.

The campaign also highlighted the illusions in directly lobbying and relying on our local politicians including Dawn Purvis (PUP) and Anna Lo (AP) or those at Westminster to deliver the goods.

As the campaign remains at a crossroad and any progressive change in abortion rights being passed at Stormont in the future extremely unlikely, direct action in the form of setting up clinics offering free advice and free safe abortion services remains a difficult but viable route.

This requires building a mass movement from below linking the struggle for women’s right to choose with the struggle for a new world where the freedom to control your own body means the freedom to run our lives, communities and workplaces for our benefit.

Winning this struggle will not only be a victory for working women but a victory for our class as a whole in terms of social progress and building confidence. A massive blow to the religious zealots and bible bashers who continue to hold sway at Stormont.