The deputy leader of the Green Party has proposed that every time a woman faces prosecution for an unlawful abortion, the man responsible for the pregnancy should also be prosecuted.
The proposal comes only days after a Northern Ireland woman was convicted of an unlawful abortion after procuring abortion pills via the internet in 2014, causing intense public debate.
Green Party deputy leader Claire Bailey pledged that if she is elected in May, she will bring forward a proposal for the legislation.
This would be, she says, “in the interests of equality”.
She proposes the law will apply exclusively to men and would create an offence of “reckless conception”.
She wrote to the News Letter: “This means that every time a woman faces prosecution or is prosecuted, the man can be charged and face the same penalty. This law would embed the notion that men are (1) also responsible for unwanted pregnancies and (2) will be [as] liable for their reproductive choices or lack of them – as women are.”
But Liam Gibson, Northern Ireland Development Officer with pro-life group SPUC, countered that men are already more likely to be prosecuted than women.
The evidence shows, he said, that in addition to 24-year-old Philip Griffiths from Fivemiletown – who was charged last week – four other men have been charged with procuring abortions between 1998 and 2014. There was one conviction.
The information was confirmed by Justice Minister David Ford in response to an Assembly Question by Green Party leader Steven Agnew.
Mr Gibson added: “Seeking to hold men accountable in this way [proposed by Ms Bailey] could, by extension, result in women needing the consent of a baby’s father in order to continue with the pregnancy. It would almost certainly result in men who seek to avoid responsibility for the welfare of their children being even more likely to coerce women into abortion.”
Young men need to be taught respect for women and young women should be encouraged to respect themselves, he said.
Alliance councillor Paula Bradshaw also rejected the proposal. “As someone who personally would wish to see reform of our laws, I fear that this proposal by the Green Party would merely trivialise a serious issue which requires thoughtful and considered engagement,” she said.
“It would in fact hinder the case for reform, and will not advance the cause of women’s rights or women’s health one iota.”