Abortion rights campaigners in Northern Ireland are worried that any post-election deal between the Conservatives and the stringently anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party could make their fight to legalise the procedure even harder.
The legislation that has allowed women in the rest of the UK to access abortion since 1967 was never extended to Northern Ireland, where abortion remains illegal in almost all circumstances.
Every year thousands of women from Northern Ireland travel to Britain for the procedure, but they are not able to access it via the NHS despite being UK taxpayers. Groups such as Alliance for Choice have long lobbied for a change in the law to allow women in Northern Ireland free, safe, and legal access to abortion.
The DUP is set to hold talks with the Tories ahead of a possible deal that would see the party's 10 MPs prop up Theresa May's minority government after the prime minister's decision to call a snap election massively backfired. The election results left the Tories as the largest party but no longer with an overall majority, leaving May with little option but to seek the DUP's help.
A spokesperson for Alliance for Choice told BuzzFeed News that any increased DUP influence in Westminster was a serious setback for its cause.
“We think it’s going to be extremely difficult to extend the 1967 Abortion Act now,” the spokesperson said.
“We know they’re anti-abortion and anti-same sex marriage, so we’re concerned that this will be used to keep same-sex marriage and abortion law reform out of Northern Ireland.”
In the last five years the DUP has voted to block same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, despite it having been legalised in the rest of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland.
Alliance for Choice’s spokesperson also pointed out strong links between the DUP and the anti-abortion group Precious Life, which regularly stages protests in Belfast. “They don’t agree with abortion under any circumstances, so they’ve nailed their colours to the mast in terms of how they feel about women being able to access reproductive healthcare here,” the spokesperson said.
“We have to stop exporting 1,000 women to the UK every year to access reproductive healthcare,” they continued. “We are UK taxpayers and UK citizens yet we are still being denied reproductive healthcare rights.”
The London-Irish Abortion Rights campaign also expressed alarm. “We are gravely concerned about the situation which is unfolding following yesterday's election,” a spokesperson wrote on Facebook.
“The DUP had consistently blocked any attempts to allow abortion even in limited circumstances," they continued. “The DUP is out of step with the Conservative party on many moral and social issues.”
A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory service, one of the largest abortion providers in the UK, said it was "troubling" that May would choose to work with the DUP despite its "regressive" views on women.
"The DUP’s policy on abortion risks the health and wellbeing of women," they told BuzzFeed News.
"However, many of the MPs returned to Westminster are pro-choice and will be keen to support women in Northern Ireland," they added. "BPAS, along with other pro-choice activists, will be campaigning to decriminalise abortion across the UK – women in Northern Ireland deserve nothing less."
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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