Liberty to honour Northern Ireland abortion rights movement at Human Rights Awards – exactly 50 years after abortion was legalised in England, Scotland and Wales

24 October 2017

The Northern Ireland abortion rights movement will today receive a Liberty Human Rights Award for their five-decade fight for free, safe and legal abortions – exactly 50 years after they were legalised in the rest of the UK.

Alliance for Choice, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, lawyer and campaigner Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and the Family Planning Association will collect the Long Walk Award tonight on behalf of all those who have fought and continue to fight for women and girls to have access to basic rights over their own bodies.

This week marks 50 years since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed, providing free, safe and legal access to abortions in England, Scotland and Wales – but the Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, where today there is a near-blanket ban on abortion. There is no exception for rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities.

It comes as the Supreme Court will today hear the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s challenge to that ban, which seeks to highlight the human rights violations caused by the current legal framework in Northern Ireland.

This must change

The maximum sentence for procuring an abortion in Northern Ireland is lifetime imprisonment. At least two women a day are forced to make the journey to Great Britain to access their basic right to reproductive autonomy – a right that every woman should be able to access freely and without fear.

For the past 50 years, campaigners in Northern Ireland have fought tirelessly through the courts, Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly to rectify this deeply unfair and dangerous violation of women’s rights.

This year, free abortions were introduced for Northern Irish women in England – but this is a sticking plaster solution to a systemic problem. Until the law is fundamentally changed to give all women in Northern Ireland free and fair access to abortions, their rights will continue to be denied.

Alliance for Choice, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, lawyer and campaigner Caoilfhionn Gallagher and the Family Planning Association said: “We are honoured to receive this award on behalf of the Abortion Rights movement as a whole, including the tireless individuals and organisations who have fought continuously for the basic rights of women, girls and pregnant people.

"This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967. For half a century women in Northern Ireland have been treated as second class citizens when it comes to their reproductive rights.

"This year, that has started to change: we have secured real change in Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, with all three governments announcing free abortion services for those forced to leave Northern Ireland to access healthcare. But women and girls should not have to travel to access free, safe and legal abortion.

"Women continue to receive custodial sentences in Northern Ireland for accessing basic healthcare.

"The Supreme Court this week is hearing why women pregnant as a result of rape and incest are not allowed to access abortions in their home country. This must change. No longer should Northern Irish women be stigmatised and criminalised.”

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Northern Ireland’s Victorian abortion laws are a violation of human rights and a perpetuation of the patriarchy. It is to all our shame that every day women and girls are criminalised and denied the dignity of having choice over their own bodies.

“For 50 years, countless individuals and organisations have fought formidably and tirelessly in the face of political inaction. Tonight’s award recognises all those who’ve fought and offers solidarity and support to all those who continue to fight.”

This year’s Liberty Human Rights Awards will be hosted by comedian Jeremy Hardy at London’s Royal Court Theatre – with a shortlist including an undercover journalist, encryption pioneers, Girlguiding members and the people of the Welsh village of Narberth. Comedy writer and creator of Father Ted Graham Linehan and former Radio 1 DJ Gemma Cairney will present the Long Walk Award.

Full Liberty Human Rights Awards shortlist

Contact the Liberty press office: 0207 378 3656 / 07973 831 128 / pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk