Abortion: is this the moment?

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Imagine living where the prime minister believes in creationism, the chair of your parliament's health committee believes "it is the duty of government to implement god's law" and the chair of the education committee calls for creationism to be taught alongside evolution in science classes. That place is Northern Ireland (NI).

Gordon Brown has been making deals with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) fundamentalists who hold these views to block abortion rights for women in NI, in return for its nine MPs voting for 42-day detention for "terrorist" suspects.

In spite of Brown's manoeuvrings, Diane Abbott MP has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, in line with Labour Party policy, to be debated in the autumn. But New Labour and its DUP fundamentalist allies say it has no support in NI and that extension would mean Westminster "imposing" abortion on us. This is nonsense. Just because people in NI vote along confessional lines does not mean they live their lives according to the edicts of the religions concerned.

More than half (58 percent) of all births in Belfast last year were to unmarried parents: more than three quarters of these registered the birth jointly. Over ten years ago, when the Brook Advisory Centre was established in Belfast, traditionalists said they would close it down. It's still there and has extended its services. Those who opposed the introduction of civil partnerships could not sustain a campaign once the law was passed.

All of NI's largest unions, and many of the smaller ones, support the extension of the act. Since 1967 tens of thousands of women have had to travel to England and pay for a procedure that is free on the NHS in the rest of Britain. However, thousands of others are forced to continue unwanted pregnancies, including women pregnant as a result of rape and sexual abuse.

There is a growing feeling that this may be "the moment" when things can change. This year's Gay Pride parade in Belfast was the biggest ever - with lots of very young, mainly heterosexual, people, howling with rage at the bigots who run this dysfunctional state. If we do not act now it will soon be too late - the political parties have been told that abortion will be devolved in the next few months. After that, there is little chance of women here ever having the right to abortion.


Goretti Horgan is a founder member of Alliance for Choice