No glory in using abortion as a political football

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman
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How sad it is to see abortion become a political football.

Prime Minister Theresa May, last week, obviously didn’t hesitate a second when she allowed women from Northern Ireland free abortions in England after Labour MP Stella Creasy tabled it as an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, a track which could have led to Mrs May losing the vote to get the Speech through. That would have meant her downfall.

Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May

Abortion law has always been a subject for the Northern Ireland Assembly – when we get it back – to resolve, and Westminster has never shied away from reminding MPs of the fact when the subject has been raised in London.

Which makes the Tories offer last week to pay the expenses of women from here having one in England hypocritical.

In Northern Ireland, a woman pregnant through rape or carrying a baby not expected to live cannot have an abortion unless she goes to England though some clinical judgements where the life of the woman is at risk may allow abortion here.

Those who find themselves accidentally pregnant and have no wish to go through with the pregnancy need not even approach their GP here who will quote the law to them.

Social abortions have clouded the subject for decades and the anti-abortion movement feels it has a right to oppose them. An unexpected pregnancy can lead to a nightmare scenario for a woman, especially if she’s in no position to support a child or who already has a family and doesn’t want to add to it.

This new arrangement of free abortions in England for Northern Ireland women, especially those on low incomes, will undoubtedly be a godsend for those seeking to end a pregnancy. It will empower women as never before and many will say they deserve that given how men do not have to make such critical, emotive decisions.

Our main political party, the DUP, is anti-abortion and it’s likely its stance will never change so the party may see this Tory decision as letting it off the hook.

The party demonstrates a tough streak when it comes to its own survival so I live for the day when various of its members are less dominated by the Church and more respectful of the lives and wellbeing of their constituents.

Equally, those members opposing gay marriage, have to put their prejudices aside because their personal opinions should not be more important than the constituents who vote for them.

This is not to say that the defence of the unborn child isn’t laudable. It is, very much so. In my career as a journalist I have interviewed and written the stories of parents left with bringing up a much disabled child. It is no picnic with bureaucracy bearing down on them at all times. Most do it heroically, others struggle.

I have also interviewed women who aborted a child early. Some have regretted it, others not and have gone on to have subsequent children. There is no rationale when it comes to the deeply personal decisions such as this that women have to take, mostly on their own. No-one prepares them for that unexpected pregnancy or the unborn life they carry which is destined not to survive ultimately. It’s the subject everyone else wants to bury under the carpet, the unsolvable nightmare which can have only one individual outcome.

It’s why I also hate to see the anti-abortion, pro-life squads out in the streets, many of them male, shouting, sometimes screeching, their defiance of abortion. They do offer what they think are solutions to help women who are pregnant against their will and those may be helpful to some vulnerable women.

Yet women, no doubt for millennia, have found ways to shed what they consider a burden they’ve no wish to carry. Only they can make the choice and it’s time society recognised that. Abortion has to be a right that women can take or leave. It should not be used as a political football or part of religious ideology.