Twenty-five NI groups sign letter to Robin Swann about ‘women and pregnant people’

Twenty-five different groups have signed a pro-choice letter to the health minister which uses the term “pregnant people” instead of just “pregnant women”.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th March 2021, 10:34 am
Queen's University Belfast's Centre for Gender in Politics was among the signatories

The open letter has been addressed to Robin Swann in an attempt to pressurise him into ordering a full roll-out of abortion services across Northern Ireland, and says that failure to do so is an act of “state violence”.

Throughout, the letter speaks of “women and pregnant people” instead of just females – reflecting their belief that men and “non-binary” people can also bear children.

It was sent out via prominent abortion lobby group Alliance for Choice, and its signatories include Queen’s University’s Centre for Gender in Politics, and influential taxpayer-supported groups like The Rainbow Project and Cara Friend.

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Dr Debbie Hayton is a secondary school teacher in England who has written extensively about transgender matters in the British press.

Dr Hayton, unlike many people who describe themselves as transgender, has undergone hormone treatment (in 2013) and reassignment surgery (in 2016) as part of her efforts to transform from male to female.

However she said that in certain respects (genetically, for instance) she remains male.

She believes using the phrase “pregnant people” is an attempt “to be kind” towards individuals who are biologically female, yet who do not think of themselves as women.

“But the problem is that, for a long time, women have fought for the right to have control over their own bodies,” said Dr Hayton.

“What we’re doing here is taking the language about pregnancy away from women, and giving it to anybody, basically.

“And by losing control of the language, women risk losing control of the abortion debate. That, I think, is dangerous for women.

“They want to be kind. But there are times when you have to protect your own boundaries.

“It divorces the terms ‘man’ and ‘women’ from male and female people, to the point where the terms are just identities to be picked up or cast aside.

“It’s an obfuscation of language – we’re just clouding language here.”

In response, Emma Campbell, co-convenor of Alliance for Choice, said that “our ethos and our principles are about absolutely including everyone”.

“We use the phrase ‘women and pregnant people’, as does the majority of our social media and policy briefings,” she said.

“We don’t remove women or take women out – we just try and include other people.

“The term pregnant people only includes people who can get pregnant – that’s it.”

It was put to her that this was language that had traditionally been used exclusively for women.

“If you go back before British colonialisation, that’s not actually true,” Miss Campbell said.

“There is widespread knowledge and evidence of many genders across many cultures before colonialisation from Europe into many other parts of the world.”

Miss Campbell went on to say that “terms like ‘men’ and ‘women’ are social constructs... male and female is biology, ‘men’ and ‘women’ – gender – is a social construct; we both know that”.

Miss Campbell (who is also active in the publicly-funded LGBTQ+ charity ‘Outburst Arts Festival’ and ‘The 343’, a feminist-led arts venue in east Belfast) described herself as “a member of the LGBTQ+ community” and said that “I am absolutely sick to the back teeth that in Northern Ireland in particular, more than any part of the rest of the UK or Ireland, LGBT people face such open public criticism so much of the time”, adding that this can worsen people’s mental health.

She also stressed that the point of their letter is that “some people need healthcare and medical attention, and they’re not getting it – and that’s our primary concern” (the text of which is run in full below, along with the signatory groups).


Dear Robin Swann,

We write to you as representatives of the women’s and LGBTQ+ sectors in Northern Ireland (NI) at a time when the treatment of gender-based violence and the urgent need for local abortion services are making daily headlines.

We are frustrated and dismayed that there is still no movement to commission abortion services despite the legal requirement in Section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.

We ask the Department of Health to honour its duty to ensure access to safe, legal and local abortion services for everyone in NI who needs them, with urgency.

It’s almost a full year since The Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 came into force, and yet the state violence against women and pregnant people continues by forcing those with complex reproductive health needs to travel to England.

Even during the Covid-19 crisis, even whilst undermining travel and social distancing rules, even when new variants lurk on the horizon, The NI Health Department continued to make women and pregnant people make their own arrangements for care in England, an option that should no longer be needed.

Not only has the Department failed to commission services, it has failed to address the spreading of misinformation about both abortion and Covid-19 by anti-choice groups, failed to provide information on any services already available and failed to combat the harassment of healthcare users at clinics and hospitals across NI.

Due to the failure to commission these services, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission were compelled to launch a Judicial Review.

Today, in frustration, the Secretary of State has laid regulations to direct the Department of Health NI to ensure that full local access to abortion services and the associated obligations of the legislation to be enacted.

Along with all the potential abortion seekers we represent we are appalled at being abandoned by our state just because this is reproductive healthcare, we have noted how little we are valued and we are furious that our needs and rights are not met to a minimum standard.

The situation that prevails is unjustifiable state violence against women, girls and pregnant people.

Whether you are pro-choice or not, this is a matter of health service provision and minimum human rights obligations.

As NI workers and organisers representing those who need access to abortion services, we respect and value the devolution settlement of the United Kingdom and are horrified Executive Vetoes have been used in Stormont to deny our human rights.

The Department of Health must act swiftly to demonstrate it values everyone in NI, including those of us who have abortions.


Alliance for Choice Belfast

Alliance for Choice Derry

Cara Friend NI

Centre for Gender in Politics QUB

Common Youth

Gender Justice and Society Network QUB

Greater North Belfast Women’s Network


Informing Choices NI

Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network

Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform

Outburst Arts

Project Choice Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union

Raise Your Voice

Rally for Choice

Reclaim the Agenda

Reclaim the Night

The Rainbow Project


Ulster University Pro Choice

Women’s Support Network

Women’s Resource and Development Agency

Women’s Policy Group NI

Women’s Sector Lobbyist

Women’s Centre Derry

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