South Belfast Green Party Candidate Clare Bailey has said that if elected in the upcoming Assembly Election, she will put forward legislation which will see men face prosecution if their sex partners seek illegal abortions.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply and as many as 1000 women travel to other parts of the UK to seek terminations. However, many cannot afford this and are forced into other ways of ending un-wanted pregnancies.
Clare voiced her intentions after a 21-year-old woman was given a suspended sentence at Belfast Crown Court in April this year, for buying abortion pills online and using them to induce a miscarriage.
To find out more about this case please click below:
I caught up with Clare to find out what her reasoning is behind bringing men into this issue and what the proposed legislation will entail.
“I am absolutely outraged that in this day and age we are still convicting women and passing a sentence that she will have for the rest of her life”.
“My challenge to the legislature is that we need to sort this issue out because it’s not going away. Putting this legislation forward is an effort to change people’s thinking. I have yet to meet a woman who got herself pregnant so why are we only convicting one person in a criminal justice system? Why are men not equally responsible for their lack of reproductive choices? Here we have a young woman convicted with no mention of the male involved.”
However, many have said that this proposed legislation is nonsense as the decision to seek is an abortion is solely down to the woman. Furthermore, many have argued that women have fought for so long to gain control over their reproductive rights, so I asked Clare if am woman has control over her own body should she therefore not have full responsibility for what she does with it?
“I absolutely do, but if we as a society are going to convict her for what we believe to be a crime in our law – she didn’t get pregnant on her own so why is there not two people being held responsible for that crime?”
“My challenge for the next 108 MLA’s is for them to take this issue very seriously because I believe that the current law we are convicting women under (Section 58 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861) is gender discrimination.”
Abortion in Northern Ireland is still a very contentious issue. There have been many cases in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (where it is also illegal) that have raised the debate on both the pro-choice and pro-life sides. I asked Clare why she thinks abortion continues to be such a sensitive and polarising topic.
“I think it’s largely because we have the conversations wrong and it’s a cultural understanding of what’s going on. I think we as a society still believe that women are irresponsible and get themselves pregnant because they’re just having casual sex and it’s an easy choice to go for an abortion when the reality is something very different.”
“We need to break the silence on this issue. What we don’t know is how many women are buying abortion pills online, this is the modern day equivalent of back-street abortions and our law is not stopping women needing this health care. The challenge with this legislation is to change conversations, to focus minds, and really putting a challenge out to the electorate.”
The Green Party is the only party in the assembly which is for the 1967 Abortion Act being extended to Northern Ireland.
“Many MLA’s claim to be pro-choice and want this issue to be resolved but the 1967 Act is not the way forward because it’s a flawed law and it over 50 years old. Well we are operating under acts which are 150 years, that were in place before women had the vote, before women could run for office so I believe that the extension of the 1967 to Northern Ireland is the quickest way to face up to the problem that we’ve got.”
The Assembly have debated on certain aspects of abortion such as in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, however actual legislation regarding these issues has yet to be passed through.
“I don’t believe these debates are enough when it comes to this issue. Many women who seek abortions need it because of their own health reasons, through poverty, they may already mothers and know what it means to have a child, or for many other circumstances which would make raising a child very difficult.”
“It’s good that these debates are happening because we really need to move on. Women are suffering and are taking high risk strategies to sort themselves out because our MLA’s fail them every single time.”
If elected in the upcoming Assembly Elections, Clare plans to change the conversations surrounding this issue and promises that as an MLA she will do everything she can to ensure that women are no longer criminalised.
To see Clare’s letter to the editor, which brought her opinion on this issue to light please click below:
Furthermore, to find out more about the Green Party and it’s policies please click below: