Why not to demonise those who don’t support full abortion law reform

Kate Nicholl is a former candidate for the Alliance Party. She writes for us today on the issue of abortion rights & in defence of those who oppose an extension of the 1967 act. 

I’m going to say something unpopular about abortion. And defend those who don’t support the extension of the 1967 Act.

Right now there is a very real debate going on in our society about a woman’s right to choose.

For the past 4 years I worked for Anna Lo – who along with Steven Agnew, Basil McCrea and Trevor Lunn were the only MLAs out of 108 to openly describe themselves as pro choice. I share Anna’s views, I think abortion is a health issue and I believe the person best placed to make decisions about her body is the woman herself. I also respect those who do not share my view, I know people who identify as pro life who are not hard line and they are as passionate in their position as I am in mine. It’s why I argue that abortion should be a matter of conscience for political parties.

A few months ago at a pro-choice panel event when the chance of getting the amendment to the Justice Bill on FFA passed was still alive, I asked the question: how do you respond to those who think this will open the floodgates? The answer was “good I hope it does”. That’s an honest response. But that answer doesn’t secure the votes we need for change. Given our political climate, given the number of pro-choice candidates who are running and the total number of seats available – the political reality is that for change to happen small steps will need to be taken first. Labeling politicians as being anti-choice when they are only in favour of liberalising the law in narrow cases does not help the cause. If we couldn’t even get an amendment to allow abortion in the case of rape, what prospect do we have of the extension of 1967? It’s a depressing truth that for progressives in Northern Ireland what we want and what is enactable are nearly always different. That certainly doesn’t mean sanitise the debate, but be conscious of what you are trying to achieve.

For me the hero of the last mandate was Trevor Lunn who opposed equal marriage time and time again, through internal and diplomatic dialogue he changed his mind. He had the bravery to do so and offered us all hope that change is possible. Call out those who refuse change, challenge those who claim to be protecting civil liberties but are actually hindering them. But be patient with those who are moving on the issue of abortion, they exist in all parties, and help them to get to the page you are on. I’d argue that’s the most progressive and feminist position you can take, because that’s the only way we get to where we so desperately need to be.

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