Abortion in Northern Ireland; Breaking free from the gags of silence

Abortion in Northern Ireland; Breaking free from the gags of silence

‘Every woman, being with child, who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever… shall be liable … to be kept in penal servitude for life.’ This is an extract from the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, the incumbent law in Northern Ireland.

Enacted before the invention of the light bulb, and in the same year another law was passed banning women from attending University, this Act remains as law today, forbidding a woman to have an abortion unless her life is in danger or she is deemed to become severely or permanently mentally ill.

In February this year, Northern Ireland Assembly members voted against abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, that is, where the foetus has a terminal condition and will die in the womb or shortly after being born. They also voted against abortion in cases of rape and incest, citing that this would be too difficult to prove.

In the 19th century when this law was passed, it can be said that a woman was regarded as little more than a breeding machine. Her body was not her own; she was under the auspices of the patriarchal society that reigned.

Given this draconian law is still being upheld in Northern Ireland, have these perceptions of women really actually changed? Is it possible that these attitudes towards women are still lingering strong, and that what we’ve tried to do is brush them under the carpet while we strive for our perception of equality in a modern world?

The very fact that a so-called western country still upholds a law that forbids a woman to be in command of her own body, is telling of this patriarchal dominance we continue to submit to living under – regardless of our endeavours and achievements as a society and as women. We have claimed our right to vote, our right to an education, and the right to have blossoming careers, all of which are enormous steps forward and never to be dismissed. But have we made the choice, in the face of the patriarchy that is written in the statute books, to stand up for the undeniable right of claiming our own bodies?

For a very long time we have stayed silent in the face of what is actually abuse, and thereby allowed it to continue.

That abortions in Northern Ireland carry the penalty of a Victorian law that would send women behind bars, is telling of this. As we marched onwards towards equal rights and opportunities, we did so in the dismissal of the one relationship that matters most; the one relationship that can actually bring equality to all our other relationships as well. Not speaking up for the sovereignty that every woman has over her own body has allowed us to bury deeper our innate knowing that true equality doesn’t come from what we do or don’t do. Nor does it proceed from the accolades and achievements we can attain, but from the inner most essence that every woman carries within, accessible to all equally, but only through a woman’s choice to have a deeply honouring relationship with her own body.

This is the real pro-choice rally that has not yet attained a voice, as a result of the silence of our own making.

Speaking up about the travesty of justice and truth, and the underlying misogyny of politicians and others who will allude, sometimes blatantly and not so blatantly, that a woman who undergoes an abortion ought to be punished, is well overdue. Our silence has allowed this abuse of women to fester and the patriarchy we all live under, to continue to reign.

In this article and the above BBC interview, Dr. Eunice Minford does just this, breaking her own silence of 15 years for having gone through an abortion under the veil of secrecy. Whilst knowing it was a true choice for herself, she had taken on the shame imposed by growing up in a culture and society founded upon religious views that were deeply intolerant of abortion and the women who had them.

In this article and interview, Dr. Minford calls out the abuse of women that the anti-abortion stranglehold on Northern Ireland creates, and in doing so she inspires and emancipates many more of us from the gags of silence that have kept us bound for far too long.

Filed under

EmpowermentAbuseWomen's healthAbortionMiscarriage

  • By Katerina Nikolaidis, MA Hons PG Dip

    Change management professional and health & well-being practitioner, with a love for people and a fascination about life. There is so much more to us than we realise.

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd