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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
The North Is Next

170 Irish and UK politicians sign letter calling for change to the North's abortion laws

Northern Ireland has been without a government for over a year and a half – so Westminster and Dublin are being asked to introduce new abortion laws.

UK: Abortion in Northern Ireland Protest in London SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

OVER 150 POLITICIANS from the UK and Ireland have signed a letter calling on the UK and Irish governments to liberalise abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and vice-president Michelle O’Neill are among the 170 signatories to the letter, which is addressed to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Currently, it’s illegal for a woman in the North to get an abortion unless there’s a risk to her life or a serious risk to her mental health. This differs from the rest of the UK where abortion without restriction is allowed up to 24 weeks.

After a landslide vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment from the Irish Constitution – which restricted Ireland’s abortion laws by stating that the right to life of the unborn was equal to the right to life of the mother – attention has immediately turned to similar laws in Northern Ireland.

Leo Varadkar in Northern Ireland Laura Hutton Anti-abortion protesters wait for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to pass at St Mary's University College, Belfast. Laura Hutton

According to the Guardian 342 women and girls from the North went to England for a termination through the British Pregnancy Advisory Service since March.

The letter, published in the Sunday Times today, states that the Good Friday Agreement places a responsibility on the co-guarantors to “uphold and protect the human rights of all the residents of Northern Ireland”.

“This responsibility cannot be abandoned for political expediency; and if falls to each of us to help ensure that these commitments are proactively upheld.”

The Stormont Assembly has been left without a government since Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness withdrew his party’s support from the Executive last year over the cash-for-ash scandal, demanding that DUP leader Arlene Foster step aside as First Minister (which she repeatedly refused to do).

Despite numerous marathon talks, there’s still a stalemate between the two main parties the DUP and Sinn Féin. This has left civil servants making government decisions, and Westminster passing a budget for the region to keep essential services going.

Ireland abortion laws Dominic Lipinski Northern Irish women at the Emmeline Pankhurst statue in London, as they protest against liberalising abortion laws from Westminster. Dominic Lipinski

The DUP is a pro-Brexit, pro-life party that opposes gay marriage. Despite many of those issues being contentious, they remain in a significantly powerful as they’re currently propping up Theresa May’s minority Conservative government.

Speculation continues over whether May would risk making a move – such as liberalising the North’s abortion laws – that would jeopardise her position, particularly at such a crucial time in Brexit negotiations.

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