FPA welcomes the reference to abortion rights in Northern Ireland included in the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s report on the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5 in the UK (PDF), published on 14 March 2017.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) is specifically dedicated to achieving women and girls' equality and empowerment. It includes nine targets, number six of which is to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
FPA recognises that this target means that SDG5 cannot be achieved in the UK until abortion rights are extended to Northern Ireland.
Unlike the rest of the UK, abortion in Northern Ireland is only available in extremely limited circumstances. Most women are only able to access services by travelling to another country and paying privately, or by buying medical abortion pills online, which is illegal and leaves them vulnerable to prosecution.
This issue is becoming increasingly important, as the Police Service of Northern Ireland has carried out a number of searches and seizures connected to the purchase of abortion pills online. This included targeted raids on pro-choice activists.
FPA’s Senior Advocacy Officer, Ruairi Rowan, said:
“This climate of prosecution increases the stigma and fear for women in Northern Ireland. Young women, and those on low incomes, will be disproportionately affected by this action, as access to legal abortion services is only available to those with the means to travel.
“In April 2016, a 21 year old woman was handed a suspended prison sentence for accessing and using early medical abortion pills. The woman bought the drugs on the internet after attempting to raise enough money to travel to England for an abortion.
“There was a lot of public debate around this decision and I have yet to hear a single political leader state that it was in the public interest for this woman to be prosecuted. However, more people have been brought to court facing similar charges, and this will continue until the law is reformed.
“FPA will continue to offer a pregnancy choices counselling service, which gives women a free space to discuss all their options, and supports them to come to their own decision.”
As we outlined in our submission to the committee, criminalising women who are seeking abortion is a clear contravention of human rights. As the committee rightly highlighted, while the situation continues, there is no way that the UK can meet the requirements of SDG5.
As such, we welcome the committee’s support for discussion with the Government Equalities Office and its call for better engagement with the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Notes on Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, 193 Member States attending the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Summit in New York adopted a new global development framework: 'Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development'. The Agenda consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), under which sit 169 targets. These commit all signatory countries to making significant progress by 2030 across a range of issues including climate change, access to quality education and the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) is specifically dedicated to achieving women and girls' equality and empowerment. It includes nine targets, number 6 of which is to ‘Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences’.