Midwifery organisations have joined a number of groups and charities in calling for Theresa May not to use women’s rights, such as abortion, in any trade-off deals with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party as they attempt to form a government.
While winning the most seats in the House of Commons, Mrs May’s Conservative government failed to acquire enough seats to form a majority government and has turned to the Protestant fundamentalist group for support.
The move has sparked controversy due to the DUP’s traditionalist views on many subjects, including opposition to same-sex marriage and the reunification of Ireland.
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DUP opposition to abortion rights has caused concern in the medical community. Chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Cathy Warwick has co-signed a letter calling for ‘categorical assurance’ that abortion rights will not be used as a bartering chip as the Prime Minister attempts to bring the party onside.
Joined by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Mumsnet, the Alliance for Choice, the Women’s Resource Centre, several trade unions and pro-choice charities, the letter calls for extension, rather than restriction on reproductive rights. It has been 50 years since the Abortion Act was first passed.
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The letter reads: ‘As you will know, unlike elsewhere in the UK, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. As a result, women in Northern Ireland are forced to travel in order to access the same abortion services as women in the rest of the UK.
‘Instead of contemplating any compromise the UK government should be focussing on extending access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland to give them the same rights as others in the UK.
‘This is not a devolved matter but rather a question of their fundamental human rights. We urge you - do not allow the clock to be turned back on women’s rights, and do not turn your back on the women of Northern Ireland.’
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In the letter, the coalition of groups also promised that there would be strong opposition to any proposal to re-open the issue of time-limits or to in any way restrict women’s access to abortion.
On 14 June, the Supreme Court ruled against a woman’s plea that women in Northern Ireland were entitled to free abortions. The decision was described by Amnesty International as a ‘further blow to women’.