Emma Gallen is an activist for Alliance for Choice.
Alliance for Choice had planned to be at several different International Women’s Day events last week. But the snow meant that many were postponed. As a result, a well meaning campaign, asking councillors at Belfast City Council to support Kate Nicholl’s motion to support the decriminalisation of abortion, gained more traction than expected.
The debate at City Council was due to be on Thursday March 1st, but was also postponed due to the weather. We expect that Both Lives Matter and the Evangelical Alliance had been emailing councillors asking for them to oppose this motion. But we can’t imagine that they received any response quite as unprofessional as the response Councillor John Hussey sent to us…
The DUP councillor for Ormiston replied that our organisation was “disgusting.” And has “obliged” Alliance for Choice to never contact him again.
The email sent to him included detailed evidence, with academic references, as well as human rights research, that supported the motion. It explained how approximately two women a day from Northern Ireland go to England for an abortion. It showed how women from his constituency have to pay to travel for healthcare. And that the present law both fails to acknowledge the reality of abortion, and leaves people open to criminalisation.
Councillor Hussey argued in other emails to constituents that he is entitled to his own moral opinions. This is certainly the case. However, as an elected representative, we would ask him to listen to the women who have had to travel, to the people who have wanted an abortion but couldn’t afford one. And that he might understand that his ideals don’t change the reality that women from Northern Ireland are having abortions regardless. Even in wanted pregnancies, people can sometimes find themselves needing abortions. And this needs to be addressed medically and safely at home.
The DUP disagreeing with what Alliance for Choice stands for is nothing new. And is not surprising. But we had not expected either us or any constituents to be treated with so little respect.
Disagreeing over the right to choose is one thing. But telling a constituent (who shared the email with us) “You don’t have the human right to kill children. I’m fairly certain on that. I’ve checked,” is rude and disrespectful.
Moreover, we believe it is contradictory and incorrect. Abortion is healthcare. And not having access to this healthcare breaches human rights. Indeed on 23/02/18, the Cedaw report said that human rights are breached in Northern Ireland regarding abortion. It goes so far as to say there is “state neglect” as far as sex education goes. And argues that as Stormont refuses to act, Westminster should, as human rights are not devolved.
The DUP’s position, not wanting to be in line with the rest of the UK for matters of reproductive rights as well as LGBT issues, is well documented. However, actively asking to never be contacted by a lobbying group misses the purpose and process of local politics. The local government code of conduct includes all verbal and written communication including emails. Principles of the code of conduct include openness, good working relationships and objectivity. None of which we feel were shown to our organisation.
Our goal in emailing city councillors was not to illicit negative responses. It was simply to share information about the issue of abortion, and to encourage people to listen to third party research. We are open to dialogue and we are a cross community group. We know that Catholics, Protestants, nationalists, unionists and those with no religion or political affiliation may all need access to abortion at some point in their lives.
Kate Nicholl’s motion is that the council supports that abortion should be a medical issue not a criminal one. And that is what we support. She has testimonies from the Family Planning Association and Amnesty International. This is not an extreme view. The way we move forward is by listening – not by politicians shutting their door on organisations because they are uncomfortable with the research.