A majority vote in favor of legalizing abortion in Ireland is likely to put pressure on neighboring Northern Ireland, where those found to have carried out an illegal procedure can be imprisoned for life.
As Ireland's electorate voted in their millions to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, Northern Ireland along with Malta and Poland will now be the only places in Europe where abortion remains illegal.
The 1967 Abortion Act that is in place in the UK was never extended to Northern Ireland, and abortion remains illegal unless the life or mental health of the mother is at risk. In fact, Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for abortion compared to anywhere else in Europe as life imprisonment could be potentially handed down if a woman is found to have undergone an illegal abortion.
Alas, just like their Irish counterparts, women are also forced into shame and secrecy, and expected to cross the Irish Sea to obtain an abortion in the UK. The Guardian estimates that 700 people left Northern Ireland for procedures in 2016 alone.
The Marie Stopes clinics that perform abortions also confirmed that they had conducted 363 terminations for Northern Irish women in England between 30 June 2017 and 28 February 2018, while the British Pregnancy Advisory Service carried out 190.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable told the Press Association today that Prime Minister Theresa May should take advantage of the current lack of a devolved administration and push for reform from Westminster.
"I believe in the principle of the right to choose, I think in the rest of the UK we have a sensible balance. The position in Northern Ireland is now highly anomalous and I think, probably, action will now have to be taken," he said.
The UN has previously slammed the UK for "violating the rights of women in Northern Ireland by restricting their access to abortion" and exposing them to "horrific situations".
“Denial of abortion and criminalization of abortion amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need. And it puts women in horrific situations,” Ruth Halperin-Kaddari of Cedaw (committee on the elimination of discrimination against women) said.
As Northern Ireland will now differ greatly from the laws surrounding abortion in UK and Ireland, politicians are expected to discuss the issue in the coming weeks.
Numerous female politicians and pro-choice campaigners based north of the border took to Twitter to celebrate the initial referendum results, and also to confirm that Northern Irish women should not and will not be left behind.
An Amnesty International petition has been set up urging the Secretary of State to review the current legislation on abortion, and has almost reached its target of 30,000 signatures.
“The UK Government can no longer turn a blind eye and deny us #equality. We cannot be left behind in a corner of the UK and on the island of #Ireland as second-class citizens.” #8thref #ItsTime #TogetherForYes #nowomanleftbehind #trustwomen https://t.co/VUpHD4EZAD pic.twitter.com/VHUdPrks13— Grainne Teggart (@GTeggart) May 26, 2018
Based on the exit poll, a historic & great day for Ireland, & a hopeful one for Northern Ireland. That hope must be met. #HomeToVote stories are a powerful and moving testimony as to why this had to happen and that understanding & empathy exists between generations. #trustwomen— Penny Mordaunt MP (@PennyMordaunt) May 25, 2018
Eyes will now turn to us: yet again a place apart. Behind GB. Behind Ireland.May 25, 2018
On #8thRef @naomi_long tells @bbcnewsline "all eyes will focus on NI...here we will continue to export the problem elsewhere." She believes Westminster has a responsibility to take action."I don't think it's acceptable in 2018 that women are left behind the rest of these islands"— Richard Morgan (@Journo_Rich) May 26, 2018
Northern Ireland is stuck! Stuck between two more progressive places where equal marraige is accepted and women are trusted! We need to fight more than ever! Future generations neecmd a fairer society to grow up in. #equalmarriage #equalityforall #trustwomen #itstime— Heather Watson (@he4therw4t5on) May 25, 2018
Lets do it next for women in NI still restricted by some of the most suffocating abortion laws in world. See below from earlier this week. Over 22000 have already signed petition calling on UK Gov to act. Sign & RT #nowomanleftbehind #Together4Yes #ItsTime https://t.co/PStWrY306F pic.twitter.com/hGjUdRheUN— Grainne Teggart (@GTeggart) May 25, 2018