How does this government fail Northern Irish women? Let me count the ways.

While all eyes were on Strasbourg and the result of Brexitnegotiations over the Northern Irish backstop, the committee for the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) published its concluding observations. The committee’s final report reiterated its belief that the UK government violates the rights of women in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion.

The convention is one of seven international human rights treaties the United Kingdom has ratified. By ratifying the treaty in 1986, it committed to taking action to end discrimination against women in all forms and, in light of this commitment, this week’s report makes clear that current abortion law is in breach of human rights. Devolution can be no excuse for denying women in Northern Ireland these fundamental rights.

Yet the committee’s continuing assertion that the government must act on abortion rights is once again coming up against politicians’ need to overlook women’s rights for the sake of political expediency. During oral questions 6 March, Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, was asked what steps she would be taken in light of the concerns raised by Northern Ireland’s women’s sector during evidence sessions for CEDAW. Her response was almost entirely ignored as it came mere minutes after the morally and politically irresponsible claim that killings by police and the army during the Troubles were “not crimes”. That remark received the criticism it deserved, but Bradley’s comments demonstrated the same sleight of hand with statistics and an utter failure to grasp the reality of women’s lives in Northern Ireland.

She reiterated the assertion that “many of the matters raised by CEDAW need to be legislated for in Stormont, which is why we need devolved government in Stormont sooner rather than later.” However the concluding report from CEDAW now indicates that the Good Friday Agreement gives a clear pathway to intervene on abortion access to ensure the UK’s “international obligations are met in respect of Northern Ireland.”

In an attempt to strengthen this assertion, Bradley quoted polling figures suggesting that “64 per cent are very clear that they want those changes to be made in Stormont.” What she neglected to mention, however, was that these figure came from a poll produced by the campaign group Both Lives Matter, and are in direct opposition to recent figures found by Amnesty International. Amnesty’s polling suggested that in fact 66 per cent of Northern Irish adults think that, without their own government, Westminster should act to change the law. This would suggest that it is Northern Irish laws, rather than the views of its public, that are out of step with the rest of the UK.

Debate around polling figures and samples can circle round endlessly, but what is always important not to lose sight of is the people behind these figures. With one in three UK women having an abortion in their lifetime, most people in Northern Ireland will know someone who has travelled to England for a termination or bought abortion pills illegally online.

The pro-choice movement across the island of Ireland has tried many approaches in its calls for free, safe legal and local access to abortion, from high court rulings and UN reports on human rights violations to public protests to highlight the cruelty of forcing women to travel to receive medical care. They were hugely successful in winning the 2018 referendum in the Irish Republic, but it is vital to ensure no one north of the border is left behind.

Recently, 28 women, including the Labour MP Stella Creasy and the stars of Channel 4 TV series Derry Girls, wheeled suitcases across Westminster Bridge to highlight the 28 women a week who have to travel from Northern Ireland to access safe and legal abortions in England. In the suitcases were 62,000 signatures calling for the decriminalisation of abortion. Siobhan McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael in the comedy drama, commented that it was a sorry state of affairs when somebody from the telly has to tell [politicians] how to do their job.

But it’s been her from the telly plus thousands of people taking to the streets and signing petitions – and now a United Nations committee too. The calls are overwhelmingly clear: the government can no longer hide behind the claim that abortion is a devolved issue: it is a women’s right and a human right, and they must end the disgraceful inaction on providing abortion healthcare in Northern Ireland.

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/abortion-northern-ireland-un-women-human-rights-a8819306.html?fbclid=IwAR1Mc8JMz0JlQW1DOvKFKm9cJnvevGmQmAg8fcfxbJiAve8QSqN7bvIX6Zg