It is an “amazing good news story” that over 100,000 spouses, children and friends are still alive in Northern Ireland today because the 1967 Abortion Act was never been brought into Northern Ireland, a new campaign group says.
‘Both Lives Matter’ made the claim at its official launch at the MAC in Belfast.
The group describes itself as a collaboration of groups such as Evangelical Alliance, CARE, Life NI, and individuals, who are seeking to “reframe” the abortion debate, advocate for better care in pregnancy crisis, and create a culture that “values each woman and her unborn child”.
It said that Scottish abortion rates suggest there would have been 163,760 abortions in Northern Ireland since 1967 if the act had been introduced here.
However, only 61,311 women travelled to England for an abortion in the period, according to UK Department of Health data cited by pro-choice activist Rebecca Gomperts. The group concluded in a new report, therefore, that 100,000 women did not travel to England for an abortion.
Leading economist Dr Esmond Birnie supported the group’s launch, describing the 100,000 figure as “plausible”.
“There is obviously no absolute certainty about what ‘an alternative Northern Ireland’ would have looked like if the 1967 abortion legislation had been applied here as in GB,” he said.
“However, what Both Lives Matter have done, as the basis for their report, is to make plausible and cautious estimates as to what might have happened ... The estimates suggest that 100,000 people – men, women and children – are alive in Northern Ireland today.”
Baroness Nuala O’Loan also supported the new group.
“There is an urgent requirement at a time when heart-rending cases are being extensively utilised by those seeking to diminish legal protection for the unborn, to be more focused on recognising and providing for the needs and care of both mother and child. Both Lives Matter is an excellent response to that pressing need,” she said.
Dawn McAvoy of Both Lives Matter said the debate around abortion in Northern Ireland is in danger of becoming “polarised by those only concerned with the unborn child on the one hand and those solely concerned with the rights of the women on the other”.
“The reality is that both lives matter. There are 100,000 people alive in Northern Ireland today who would not have been born if the 1967 Abortion Act had been introduced here.
“People we all know and love – spouses, children, friends and family. We have always known this to be the case, the question was how many. This is an amazing good news story.”
But Goretti Horgan of Alliance for Choice said the estimate of 100,000 was “just plucked from the air”, adding: “I can’t see how anybody can put a figure on that.”
Women who travel to England for abortion normally give an English home address, so estimating their number is very difficult, she said, but Both Lives Matter had underestimated the number of women who travelled there for the procedure by some 40,000, she said.
“The World Health Organisation has said that abortion levels are much higher in jurisdictions where it is illegal, as people panic and don’t think about any other options.”
Pro-life campaigners could reduce crisis pregnancies by opposing pending changes which will prevent a woman claiming benefits for more than two children, she added.
Last week former justice minister David Ford said he was disappointed his abortion reform bill will fall due to the collapse of the Assembly, but pledged to submit it again if re-elected.
In February MLAs once again voted against relaxing abortion law.
Unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.