published on 11 Nov 2011
This month is the anniversary of the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act.
An Act with huge significance for women in Northern Ireland, it carries a sentence of life imprisonment for anyone having or providing an abortion.
Despite the Act coming into being when Queen Victoria was on the throne and before the invention of the light bulb, it's still the existing legislation that abortion in Northern Ireland is governed by today. As such it effectively denies women access to the procedure and in the eyes of the law brands them criminals.
The sexual health charity FPA is calling for an end to this daily discrimination against women and for new legislation granting equal reproductive rights for women to be introduced.
Whilst the political landscape of Northern Ireland has changed dramatically over the last 150 years, women's reproductive rights have not. Because of this Act the majority of women living in Northern Ireland who need an abortion have to travel to England or other European countries to have one. They are not even entitled to an NHS abortion in England and have to pay costs of up to £2,000.
As part of its historic and ongoing commitment to reform abortion legislation in Northern Ireland, FPA launched its Time for Change campaign in 2010. As part of this campaign and to highlight the anniversary of the Offences Against the Persons Act, FPA has produced:
Talking about the reasons behind the Time for Change campaign, Dr Audrey Simpson OBE, Director of FPA in Northern Ireland said:
“It's totally unacceptable that in 2011 a woman in Northern Ireland can legally be imprisoned for life for having an abortion. It is equally unacceptable that if she has been raped or is a victim of incest she cannot access an abortion in her own country or even an NHS abortion in England.
“Since 1970 approximately 57,000 women have travelled abroad to secure an abortion. Women are silently voting with their feet so it is time for our legislators to recognise that criminalisation or restricting access does not work. It is time to give them the right to access reproductive healthcare services, a right already given to women in the rest of the UK.”
Find out more about why women in Northern Ireland are denied abortion.
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For further information please contact the FPA press office on 020 7608 5265/5264. Mobile 07958 921060.
The sexual health charity FPA champions the importance of good sexual health for everyone. We educate, inform, support and campaign for people across the UK. The Family Planning Association is a registered charity, number 250187.