Should NI women have NHS access to abortion..?

Few Northern Irish issues have stimulated debate elsewhere in the blogosphere like the failed attempt by Diane Abbot to get the provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act extended to Northern Ireland. Over at the Fabian Next Left Blog, Sunder Katwala lays out a couple of thoughts:

(1) As well as the Commons voting, at some point in the future, on extending the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland, perhaps there is a good case to put another ‘stepping stone’ reform on the agenda at the same time: mainland MPs should also propose to make women from Northern Ireland eligible to have an abortion on the NHS in the rest of the UK, until and unless the NI law is changed

(2) Secondly, there is very little good information on public attitudes to abortion in Northern Ireland – and a non-partisan study of public attitudes could help to create a more informed and less polarised debate. It may perhaps not be in the partisan interests of neither side to admit to the complexity of opinion.

He also notes:

Meanwhile, those promoting reform have this week released a poll with a clear majority in Northern Ireland for the right to abortion in the cases of rape and incest – with 60% in favour and 20% against.

I don’t know if they also polled the public on the support for the extension of the 1967 Act itself: if they did, the figures do not seem to have been released. (It would be a reasonable hunch to say that there would currently be public a majority against: it is reported (PDF file) that there was 25% to 30% support for abortion at the request of the woman in Northern Irish polls in 1992 and 1994. I have not seen any more recent information).

In the meantime, up to forty Northern Irish women a week make an often long and lonely journey to private English clinics, occasionally treated by nurses from home. Whilst, it seems, our politicians are happy to see this particularly awkward bundle of ethical questions kicked to touch by Westminster, even as Stormont remains powerless to take a decision.

Robert Keys’ contribution to that debate is worth clipping:

I therefore ask that they—and Parliament—consider changing the habits of a lifetime: they should accept that the very important issue of abortion should not be shuffled off to a private Member’s Bill but instead tackled in Government time with a Government Bill. We are mature enough in this country now to take those issues as public business; they are public business.

You can watch the full debate here:

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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