Though the COVID-19 crisis is stressing the National Health System (NHS) in the U.K. and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has even been infected, the main concern for some activists is that abortion still isn’t accessible in Northern Ireland despite being legalized last year.
Per The New York Times, “A week after abortion was supposed to become freely available in Northern Ireland, women continue to be denied access to services and are instead enduring an eight-hour ferry ride to Liverpool, England, despite the coronavirus lockdown.”
In the article, the author blames tension between government leaders regarding telemedicine abortion and obstruction by the Health Minister.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The legalization of abortion in Northern Ireland was enforced from on high by the British government while Northern Ireland’s parliament remains in political deadlock. It was a move that ignored the will of the people of Northern Ireland and replaced it with Great Britain’s (Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
The history between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is complex and often violent. Throughout the 20th century, there were several terrorist attacks committed by the Irish Republican Army or IRA, a group dedicated to eliminating British rule over the territory. It was a period of time known as “The Troubles.” About 3,600 people were killed during these conflicts, including the Queen’s cousin. These clashes throughout the years often had religious connotations, with the Irish remaining mostly Catholic and the British Protestant.
The tensions of this often-violent conflict remain to this day. There are actually only a few “trash bins,” as the Brits call them, in the city of London because the IRA used to place bombs into these bins to maximize damage through the resulting metal shrapnel. Most trash is actually placed in bags on the street for collection. Even though peace has been in place for about 20 years with the Good Friday Agreement, the palace still doesn’t announce a royal visit to the territory until a day before or day of to avoid potential terrorist attacks.
Despite this tense and violent history, it seems rather unwise to legalize abortion without putting the vote to the people of Northern Ireland. It also seems likely that this pandemic will allow activists to try and expand abortion access even more.
The Northern Irish pro-life group is trying to fight against this by pledging to fight until every child is safe.
“We’ve launched this important new online campaign, called the ’79 Percent Campaign’ to express the public frustration and horror at the prospect of this barbaric new abortion law enforced by the UK Government,” Bernadette Smyth, the director of Precious Life, said. “The people of Northern Ireland, in their many thousands, have persistently made their forces heard and their outright opposition to abortion known.”
The group is leading a campaign to raise awareness that roughly 79% of people in Northern Ireland oppose “any changes to the country’s pro-life laws.”
The battle these pro-life warriors face is going to become even tougher as the restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic continue. The Shadow Secretary of State, a member of the opposition Labour Party and is part of a “Shadow Cabinet,” is already advocating that since Northern Ireland’s hospitals don’t yet have abortion facilities ready, that women should be able to receive the abortion pill through the mail if they complete a telemedicine abortion appointment with a physician in Great Britain.
This, once again, fundamentally undermines Northern Ireland’s autonomy by using the pandemic to circumvent the territory’s regulations in order to make abortion available.
Pray that the people of Northern Ireland will be encouraged and strengthened to continue this pro-life fight. When 125,196 people have died and nearly two million are infected with the coronavirus, it seems utterly ridiculous to fight for abortion access. As a global community, the focus should be on saving lives and not taking them.