15th February 2017

NiamhOn Monday I received an email which, more than anything so far in this election campaign, gave me hope for our future.  It read:

Dear MLA candidate,

I’m a first time voter currently studying A levels in Enniskillen.
Through the study of politics at A level I am extremely aware of the tendency of the northern Irish electorate to vote in a tribal manner – green or orange. I do not want to contribute to this trend, I want to be part of a generation that votes based on policy and capability. I find it frustrating that the same sectarian rhetoric captivates every election, leaving little room for insightful political debate.
Therefore I would like to request a little information about your views on the following issues in order to ensure that I am as well informed as possible about the type of representatives I vote for on March 2nd:
-Abortion
-Marriage equality
-Integrated education
-Brexit and its implications on NI
-Managing the inquiry into the RHI scheme
-The current refugee crisis’ in Syria, Yemen and Sudan
-Fracking

Thank you,
Niamh Mcandrew

I replied yesterday, thanking Niamh especially, because if others of her generation realise the power of their votes, and, as she says, vote on the basis of policy and capability, then Northern Ireland will indeed have a bright and positive future. I asked Niamh for permission to post her letter on this blog and she gladly agreed, believing that if more young people saw the “power in using their voices then our political system would not be dominated by the past.”

My responses to the issues she raised, by the way, were:

Abortion
I believe that abortion should be considered as a health issue, not a matter for the police and the courts. It is a matter of conscience, but of the conscience of the pregnant woman, not of MLAs in Stormont. I therefore support the decriminalisation of abortion, in line with calls from the British Pregnancy Advice Service, so that it is a decision for each individual woman after consultation with medical professionals. I would also call for improvements in education, healthcare and support for families, in order that far fewer women are faced with this difficult and often heartbreaking decision.

Marriage equality
I am a passionate supporter of marriage equality and proud to be a member of the Green Party which was the first to bring the issue to Stormont. Now most of the other parties have caught up with us, and with public opinion, but equality has still been shamefully blocked by misuse of the petition of concern. We will continue to campaign, as individuals and as a party, for marriage equality and against the many other forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Integrated education
I am a strong advocate for integrated education, which was the sector chosen by my own children and within which I am a school governor. I believe that a fully integrated education system would enable all students to fulfil their potential and would be a significant step towards building a genuinely shared society. Unfortunately, costly and divisive segregation of children from the age of four has obvious benefits for political parties which seek to gain votes through fear and mistrust, and many opportunities for integration have been sadly wasted by their inaction and hostility.

Brexit
I believe that Brexit, in the ‘hard’ form favoured by Theresa May, would be a disaster for Northern Ireland and especially for border counties like Fermanagh and Tyrone. I am therefore, with my Green Party colleagues, campaigning for Northern Ireland to have a proper voice in negotiations, for all existing European environmental, workers’ and human rights protections to be written into domestic law and for a referendum on any proposed Brexit deal.

RHI
Steven Agnew, the Green Party MLA raised issues with the design of the RHI scheme when it was first introduced in 2013, concerns that were sadly not addressed by those responsible. The technology and principle of the scheme were sound, but it was scandalously mismanaged. We support a judge-led independent enquiry into the RHI scandal, including into any relevant influence by secret party donors. The Green Party voluntarily publishes all donations of over £500, and I believe that other parties need to do so as well. We would also introduce a windfall tax on RHI payments, and have called for the Assembly Commissioner for Standards to be able to investigate alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct, something which is not presently the case.

Refugees
I believe that we have a strong moral obligation to help refugees,especially children, including, where it is in their best interests, welcoming them to new homes in the UK. In the case of those forced from their homes in the Middle East, our responsibility is especially grave, as our country, by military intervention and the sales of arms, has played a shameful part in exacerbating the wars and conflicts from which people are fleeing. Neither can we escape our responsibility, as citizens of rich nations, for the climate change which is devastating much of the world, and creating more and more refugees.

Fracking
I was one of the founder members of the frack-free movement in Fermanagh and have continued to campaign against all kinds of so-called ‘unconventional’fossil fuel extraction at home and throughout the world and to support the growing divestment movement. I believe that we need a total ban on such techniques, which are destructive of environments, health, economies and communities, which contribute greatly to calamitous climate change and which are totally unnecessary now that clean and sustainable sources are able to meet our energy needs.

 

1st March 2016

121

A little more from Saturday’s conference – in the afternoon I chaired a panel discussion, ‘Greens Leading the Change’ with guests Mairead McCafferty, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, John O’Doherty, Director of the Rainbow Project, Dawn Purvis, former leader of the PUP and Alex Kane, the political commentator.  We discussed four areas where the Green Party has been to the forefront in pushing for change: the children’s sector, LGBTQ rights, women’s reproductive rights and the need for an Opposition at Stormont.  It was a fascinating discussion, with such entertaining and informed speakers, and though I was nervous, they made the job of chair as easy as it could be.

128

(Photographs by Anne Ramsey)

 

12th February 2016

0212

I was really hoping to get onto another subject today, but as I spent last night heartsore and shaken, unable to sleep after yesterday’s encounter, it’s been hard to move on.  I also wanted to say a little about William’s comment (alongside very welcome supportive friendship) on my post.

“I’m not sure is there a difference between imposing or legislating a personal feeling/principle? surely it is what politicians do.”

0212aAll too often, yes it is.  But feelings alone are not a good guide to policy.  My own reaction to images such as that which William himself used in his own blog post on abortion (see right) is emotional and visceral.  But it does not take into account those other living children, less photogenic and appealing, who suffer from Northern Ireland’s abortion laws; the young girls pregnant from rape and incest and the toddlers whose mothers are distraught and distant at the prospect of bearing a foetus which will inevitably die before or at birth.

Feelings are the basis for some of the worst political attitudes and decisions we see: the anger and revenge which fuel capital punishment, the sense of helpless sympathy which justifies wars, the fear which scapegoats immigrants and even the rural nostalgia which defends the exploitation of animals and rejects our only hopes for sustainable energy.

Our feelings may be the starting point for our political judgments, but they should never be their justification, especially if we aspire to any elected office.  Evidence, rational debate and long-term thinking for the common good may not always stir our spirits, but they need to guide our decisions.  And that is why, however my heart may contract at the image of a curled foetus, I recognise, respect and will, whatever the cost, defend the rights of women to make their own decisions about the potential new lives which cannot possibly exist outside their own bodies.

Often, of course, our hearts and our minds say the same, inspired by those who speak with courage, wisdom and honesty about their own experiences.  One such is Jenny Grainger, mother of the brilliant young Strangford Green Party candidate Georgia Grainger.  Jenny has written (and kindly allowed me to share):

People need to know the human cost of all the political gesturing and manipulation that goes on so please share if you feel that Stormont must be forced to ‪#‎trustwomen‬ and to give us our human rights…..

When I was 25 years old my first baby, Hope, was stillborn because of foetal abnormalities. I was nearly 6 months pregnant when these fatal abnormalities showed up on a routine scan. I was sent home for 3 weeks knowing that there was something very wrong as I waited for test results and quietly went out of my mind with anxiety and fear.
Abortion was not an option for me that far into the pregnancy so my only option was to enter into a really tough 19 hour labour knowing after 12 hours that Hope had died inside me. She simply wasn’t strong enough to come into this world.
After giving birth to her, holding her, taking a photo of her and then giving her wee body away, I was placed back on the maternity ward with all the other new mums and their babies. It was at that point that I started to fall apart and I then entered one of the darkest and most painful times of my life as my broken heart plunged into depression, despair and grief. Eventually I clawed my way back out of the deep dark hole I had fallen into and I managed to pull most of me back together again over time but it took me nearly 20 years to fully recovered from the trauma I had been through. I was blessed to have another beautiful, amazing, healthy baby and life carried on for me and got better and better over time.
However, if the abnormalities had been detected at an early stage in the pregnancy, would I have considered an abortion?
IT IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!
It can only ever be MY business (and that of the baby’s father where appropriate) whether I believe that I can cope with bringing a child into this world and doing a great job of parenting it, regardless of its needs.
It is MY body.
It is MY life.
It has got to be MY choice.
I have never ever met a woman who has had an abortion without it having a massive impact on her (either then or in the future). How many women in 2016 are really going to do this lightly?
It is time that we, as a society, take the next step in showing women the respect of allowing them to make their own decisions.
This is not a political issue.
This is not a religious issue.
This can only be a human rights issue and I, as a woman, as a human being, have the right to choose how to live and how to die. As long as I do that peacefully and mindfully then IT IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, Stormont.

I cannot say any more, or any better.

11th February 2016

Canvassing (alone, except for Geoff and Jess waiting in the car) this afternoon, I was told that I would face the judgment of God for ‘encouraging the killing of the wee babies’.  It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I’m still a bit shaken by it.  As a student, over thirty years ago, I decided not to volunteer for the crisis helpline because it would involve passing on the details of abortion services.  I am still, as I’ve said, instinctively and emotionally ‘pro-life’.  But I recognise that my personal feelings are just that, and that it isn’t fair or just for me to impose those on women who are going through extraordinarily difficult circumstances, like the one described in the Guardian today.  I would prefer to live in a world without abortion, just as I would prefer to live in a world without suicide.  I know, though, that in desperate situations, a punitive criminal law achieves nothing at all.  To reduce the number of abortions, we need to improve sex and relationships education, build the confidence of girls and young women, take the victims of abuse and rape seriously, support single mothers, provide proper services for families, achieve equality for disabled people and end the stigma against those who do not conform to conservative norms.  All those priorities are part of Green Party policy and that is why I am, despite the tirades of the doorstep, ready to face whatever judgment awaits me.  Still feeling slightly wobbly, though.

9th February 2016

Tomorrow the Northern Ireland Assembly is due to debate the Justice Bill, to which Steven Agnew (leader of the Green Party) has tabled amendments which, if passed, would allow for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and where conception was the result of rape or incest.

The urgency of a change in the abortion law was underlined by the recent High Court ruling that the current situation breaches the human rights of women in not providing exceptions to the abortion ban in these two particular situations.

In response to a constituent’s request that he vote in favour of these amendments, Alban Maginness, a senior SDLP MLA wrote (inter alia)

“The SDLP is a Pro Life Party with a longstanding and consistent position on the protection of the life of the unborn child.

As decided by Party Conference, the SDLP is totally opposed to abortion and to any extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland. This remains the Party’s position and we have been consistent in our continued opposition to abortion….

The SDLP will not support these amendments during the vote on Wednesday 10th February 2016.”

There is, of course, a point of view which says that, from the moment of conception, a human person exists whose right, not just to live, but to be carried and nurtured by the woman whose egg has been fertilised, trumps all else, no matter what the circumstances, and no matter what the cost to the woman, to her family, including existing children, and to the best long-term interests of the embryo itself. It is a point of view, but not a widely held one, depending as it does on theological definitions of human life rather than upon evidence or experience.

By opposing these amendments, the SDLP is saying that a foetus which will inevitably die at or shortly after birth, must be put through the trauma of that birth, and must impose unbearable suffering upon the woman who carries it, and all who care for her.  It is saying that a young girl raped by her father must, should the his sperm penetrate one of her eggs, bear in her body her own child-sibling.  It is a cruelty beyond expression, and sits ill with the party’s claims to progressive protection of the most vulnerable.

No political parties in the other British Isle, so far as I am aware, oppose abortion with  this total and inflexible intransigence, certainly not the Labour Party with whom the SDLP have a longstanding electoral relationship.  To see the effects of this kind of ideological purity, we have to look at countries like El Salvador, where the criminalisation of all abortion has led to women suffering miscarriages being convicted of murder.

I do not believe that this is the sort of society that my neighbours in Northern Ireland want to live in.  It is time that old certainties about control of women’s bodies by the elderly men of church and state were re-examined, along with the old certainties that denied love, sex and marriage to gay and lesbian couples.  Opinion polls have made it clear that most people here want to see reform.  They want to see compassion and justice placed above ideological definitions.  They want to see respect shown for the real and serious dilemmas which families and individuals face in the most tragic of situations.  And most of all, they want to trust women to make their own decisions.

 

 

27th January 2016

I am amazed at the news today that the NI Justice Minister, David Ford of the Alliance Party, intends to launch a legal appeal against the High Court judgment of Mr Justice Horner that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is disappointing and depressing to see that the leader of the Alliance Party, which has in the past presented itself as an advocate of women’s rights, has been so timorous on this issue.  It is no doubt embarrassing and awkward for all the Executive parties that this judgment has so starkly uncovered the ways in which NI legislation mistreats the victims of sexual violence and women in the tragic position of carrying a foetus which cannot possibly live.  This appeal, and the flimsy grounds upon which it is taken, look like nothing more than an attempt to appease the hardliners and push the issue yet further down the road, well past the next election.  It is a waste of time and considerable amounts of money, a sign of disrespect for the rule of law and an insult to the many women for whom this is a matter of heartbreaking pain.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Ford’s reason for bringing such an appeal is that:

“The judgment from the High Court does not fully clarify the law and potentially leaves open the possibility there could be abortion on demand in Northern Ireland on an even wider basis than is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom.”

This is nonsense.  It was perfectly clear throughout the legal proceedings that they were dealing with certain specific issues, not with the law about abortion generally.  The judge’s ruling found that there were two breaches of human rights law, namely:

i. failing to provide an exception to the prohibition on abortion in cases of: a fatal foetal abnormality (at any time during the pregnancy); and

ii. failing to provide such an exception where the pregnancy is the result of sexual crime (up to the date when the foetus is capable of existing independently of the mother).

The case did not concern, and Mr Justice Horner did not rule upon, any question regarding the general prohibition on abortion.  As he stated:

“There is no right to abortion in Northern Ireland except in certain carefully defined and limited circumstances.  The Commission has made it clear that it does not seek to establish such a general right.”

The Belfast Telegraph‘s article refers to:

“a section of the ruling where Justice Horner stated that an unborn child’s right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not apply until the foetus could viably survive outside the womb.

The minister said this could be interpreted as giving an expectant mother a free rein to abort before the point of viability, which is usually estimated at around 22 to 24 weeks.”

Again, this is either ignorance or deliberate mischief-making (quite apart from the deeply offensive terms in which it is expressed).  The ECHR is a safety net, setting out the minimum human rights agreed by the signatory countries.  It doesn’t say that, provided it isn’t specifically covered, anyone can do anything to anyone else and there is nothing lawmakers can do about it. Of course legislation can place appropriate restrictions upon abortion before the point of viability.  There is no reason whatsoever, other than scaremongering, to suggest that, as a consequence of this ruling, abortion law in Northern Ireland would be subject to a different human rights framework than that in England and Wales.  Even if the judge had suggested that it might be, which I don’t believe he did, that part of his judgment would be obiter dicta, that is, irrelevant to the judgment itself, and therefore not binding on any court or government.

It is deeply sad, and a reflection of the dysfunctional nature of our executive government, that its ministers continue to play these wasteful and offensive games with women’s lives. Our human rights have been recognised by the law; it is time for the government to enact them, and to trust women to make their own decisions in personal circumstances which no one else can know so well.

 

7th January 2016

0131b
Clare with our son Rory, a member of the rapidly expanding South Belfast Green Party.

There’s a great article by Bradley Allsop on the Bright Green website about my friend and colleague Clare Bailey, Deputy Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland and our Assembly candidate for South Belfast.

She did brilliantly in the Westminster elections in 2015, and only just missed out on a council seat in 2014, so, as Bradley writes, “Clare is very hopeful, believing that she has a real shot at joining party leader Steven Agnew at Stormont.” That optimism is shared across the South Belfast community and throughout the Green Party, which has seen particularly vigorous membership growth and volunteer enthusiasm in the constituency.

She certainly deserves to be in the Assembly, and the Assembly certainly needs her.  Even back in 2014, research showed a strong majority in favour of abortion law reform, across all ages, genders and backgrounds in Northern Ireland.  Following the recent legal ruling by Mr Justice Horner, the moral imperative for reform, for the alleviation of women’s suffering in the most heartbreaking circumstances, can only be more compelling and urgent.

And yet the Northern Ireland Executive continues to sit on its hands, and the Assembly, dominated by conservative men, shies away from the subject like a blushing virgin.  And any hope that a female First Minister would make women’s wellbeing a priority has been comprehensively quashed by Arlene Foster’s interview in yesterday’s Guardian.

And how telling that it takes an English-based publication even to ask the question.  Before Christmas I was interviewed by a brave young reporter for one of our local newspapers on the subject of Judge Horner’s ruling and the possibility of abortion law reform.  Three issues later, the article still hasn’t appeared.  Editorial cold feet or, more likely, the discomfort of the other political parties at having to talk about That Subject?  Much safer to mumble about ‘consultation’ and push it a few more years down the line.

But meanwhile women are suffering.  And when women suffer, so do children, and so do men.  The position is clear: reform is legally essential, to halt the denial of our basic human rights, and is, moreover, supported by a clear public mandate.  To speak for reform isn’t to say that abortion is necessarily right, in these or any circumstances. But who is best placed to make the decision in these incredibly painful situations?  The women in whose very bodies the experience is unfolding, or the serried ranks of suited MLAs, glancing over their shoulders at their ecclesiastical and corporate backers?

‘Trust women’, says Clare.  I’m looking forward to the day when we can say it together, from the growing Green corner of the Assembly chamber.

30th November 2015

Today’s important news here was that Mr Justice Horner, sitting in the High Court in Belfast, held that the abortion legislation in Northern Ireland breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  There were two specific breaches found:

i. failing to provide an exception to the prohibition on abortion in cases of: a fatal foetal abnormality (at any time during the pregnancy); and

ii. failing to provide such an exception where the pregnancy is the result of sexual crime (up to the date when the foetus is capable of existing independently of the mother).

As Clare Bailey, Deputy Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, has said:

“This is a momentous moment for women in Northern Ireland. I welcome that the High Court has recognised that Northern Ireland’s archaic abortion laws breach human rights. Mr Justice Horner has recognised that women who have suffered sexual crime or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality should be afforded choice over their decisions. No woman takes the decision to have a termination lightly and they should be given every support necessary, not forced into a decision because there are no alternatives.”

It is important to recognise what this decision does not say, as well as what it does, and so I do recommend that everyone, whatever their opinions on the issue, reads the official Summary of Judgement rather than relying on media reporting of its contents.  I’m planning to read the full judgement too, but that won’t be today.  Meanwhile here are a few key parts of the summary (titles and text in square brackets my own).

What the case was about:

“Mr Justice Horner noted at the outset of his judgment that this was not a case about the right to abortion:

“There is no right to abortion in Northern Ireland except in certain carefully defined and limited circumstances.  The Commission has made it clear that it does not seek to establish such a general right.  This application is about whether the failure to provide certain limited exceptions to the ban on abortion in Northern Ireland, namely in cases where there is an SMF [serious malformation of the foetus], including an FFA [fatal foetal abnormality], or where the pregnancy is a consequence of sexual crime is in compliance with the rights enjoyed by all citizens of Northern Ireland under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

 

When a legal human life begins:

Mr Justice Horner commented that the European Court of Human Rights has shied away from determining when human life begins and has concluded that it is a matter for each Member State to determine within that State’s margin of appreciation. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Ireland has interpreted the right to life as commencing at the moment of conception whereas in England and Wales the common law position is that a foetus is not a legal person until it is born and has a separate existence from its mother.  Mr Justice Horner held that there are no grounds for concluding that the common law in Northern Ireland is any different to that in England and Wales.

 

What the European Convention on Human Rights does:

“The Convention does not require anyone to give up his or her deeply held beliefs on certain moral or religious matters.  It just means that in respect of certain rights protected by the Convention one section of the community, whether in the majority or not, is no longer able to deny to others whether by the imposition of criminal sanctions or otherwise, the ability to enjoy those protected Convention rights.”

 

Why serious malformations of the foetus were not included in the situations which, according to this judgement, breached Convention rights:

“He noted that there does not appear to be any international obligation to provide abortions in respect of SMFs nor any drive internationally to ensure that SMFs should be made an exception to the present abortion regime in Northern Ireland:

 “There is also surely an illogicality in calling for no discrimination against those children who are born suffering from disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida on the basis that they should be entitled to enjoy a full life but then permitting selective abortion so as to prevent those children with such disabilities being born in the first place.  This smacks of eugenics.  It is always difficult to draw the line and it comes as no surprise that the phrase “serious malformation of the foetus” remains undefined.  It can mean different things to different people.”

 

Why the fact that women can travel to other parts of the UK for abortions does not make the current situation acceptable:

“If it is morally wrong to abort a foetus in Northern Ireland, it is just as wrong morally to abort the same foetus in England.  It does not protect morals to export the problem to another jurisdiction and then turn a blind eye;

  • If the aim is to prevent abortion, then it is surely no answer to say that abortion is freely available elsewhere and that necessary services can be easily accessed in an adjacent jurisdiction.  There is no evidence before this Court, and the Court has in no way attempted to restrict the evidence adduced by any party, that the law in Northern Ireland has resulted in any reduction in the number of abortions obtained by Northern Irish women.  Undoubtedly, it will have placed these women who had to have their abortions in England under greater stress, both financial and emotional, by forcing them to have the termination carried out away from home;
  • There can be no doubt that the law has made it much more difficult for those with limited means to travel to England.  They are the ones who are more likely to be greatly affected in their ability to terminate their pregnancy if they cannot obtain charitable assistance.  The protection of morals should not contemplate a restriction that bites on the impoverished but not the wealthy.  That smacks of one law for the rich and one law for the poor.”

 

Why the current legal situation does not prevent abortions in these circumstances:

He said that while there was evidence that forcing young women to travel to Great Britain can have the consequence of imposing an intolerable financial and mental burden on those least able to bear it, there was “not one iota of evidence” that the imposition of criminal sanctions on these women in these exceptional cases  has resulted in the saving of any pre-natal life.

 

The particular issues relating to a woman or girl who becomes pregnant as a result of rape or incest:

“She has to face all the dangers and problems, emotional or otherwise, of carrying a foetus for which she bears no moral responsibility and is merely a receptacle to carry the child of a rapist and/or a person who has committed incest, or both.  In doing so, the law is enforcing the prohibition of abortion against an innocent victim of a crime in a way which completely ignores the personal circumstances of the victim.  Weighed in the balance is the foetus, incapable of an independent existence.  The law makes no attempt to balance the rights of the women that are involved.  Instead, by imposing a blanket ban on abortion, reinforced with criminal sanctions, it prevents any consideration of the interests of the women whose personal autonomy has been so vilely and heinously invaded.  A law so framed can never be said to be proportionate.” 

Mr Justice Horner said that sexual crime is the grossest intrusion on a woman’s autonomy in the vilest of circumstances.  Any resulting pregnancy is not a voluntary act but one which was forced upon the woman.  He noted that in Northern Ireland a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of a sexual crime is obliged to carry a child to full term or risk criminal prosecution unless she obtains an abortion for the purpose of preserving the mother’s life or if continuation would make her “a physical or mental wreck The judge noted that the foetus does not have any Article 2 rights and there is no evidence that any life has been saved by the impugned provisions or the abortion regime presently operating in Northern Ireland insofar as they affect women pregnant as a result of sexual crime.  He added that there was also no evidence that the people of Northern Ireland require a woman impregnated as the result of a sexual crime to carry the foetus to full term because of their profound and moral views. 

 

The particular issues relating to fatal foetal abnormality:

“[T]he judge said that there can be no doubt that the mother’s inability to access an abortion in the circumstances where the doctor can be certain that the foetus will be unable to live independently outside the womb constitutes a gross interference with her personal autonomy.  “In the case of an FFA there is no life to protect.  When the foetus leaves the womb, it cannot survive independently.  It is doomed.  There is nothing to weigh in the balance.  There is no human life to protect.  Furthermore, no evidence has been put before the Court that a substantial section of Northern Ireland’s community, never mind a majority, requires a mother to carry such a foetus to full term.  Therefore even on a light touch review, it can be said to a considerable degree of confidence that it is not proportionate to refuse to provide an exception to the criminal sanctions imposed by the impugned provisions.”

 

This seems to me to be a moderate and sensible judgement, upon which, with goodwill, we could find much common ground between those who might traditionally think of themselves as ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’.  Mr Justice Horner has emphasised that this case is not about a right to abortion, only to exceptions in the case of these two specific and traumatic sets of circumstances.  There is no suggestion that women in these cases ought to seek abortions, only that the decision should be their own.  Very importantly, he points out that the current situation does not prevent these abortions, only outsourcing the procedure across the sea, at great emotional, personal and financial expense to the women concerned.  If we genuinely want to reduce the real number of abortions carried out upon women in Northern Ireland, we must go about it in quite a different way, as I have written before on this blog.

Meanwhile, as Clare says;

“I can only hope that Northern Ireland’s politicians are listening and take steps to amend legislation as a matter of urgency.”

Amen to that, for all our sakes.

23rd April

 

0423

 

Excellent coverage from the Impartial Reporter today of our manifesto launch and Aidan’s election as chair of the NI Young Greens.  They also had an extensive report of the Youth Action NI hustings – see here (with audio as well).

 

0423a

 

Meanwhile the Tyrone Times is running an article claiming that we, along with Alliance and Sinn Fein, are “so ashamed of their pro-abortion policies that they are deliberately hiding their positions from the Catholic electorate.” Now, obviously I can’t speak for the other parties, but the Green Party has been completely open about its pro-life policy, and I myself have made my position very clear, both on my blog and while canvassing.  With slight trepidation, overcome by a healthy dose of indignation, I repeated it in the comments section beneath the article, and awaited fireworks.  None so far …

 

2nd March

1101aToday my friend and Green Party colleague Clare Bailey, Deputy Leader of GPNI, has a powerful article published in the Guardian about her experiences acting as an escort for women going in and out of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast.  Sadly, many of the protestors who stand outside the clinic go far beyond the prayer vigil that they claim to be carrying out, instead intimidating and abusing those who visit the clinic for any purpose, whether for legal medical abortion, STD or family planning advice.  I understand that many of my fellow Christians feel very strongly about this issue, and believe that they have a duty to defend the rights of the embryo which they see as having a full human identity from the moment of conception.  If they really did confine themselves to silent prayer for all those involved, together with practical support for women who decide to continue with their pregnancies, I would have great respect for them.  It is not, however, either Christian or humane to threaten vulnerable women,  whether with exposure on social media or television, with the police or with hell.

As I have written before, the issue of abortion is a difficult one for me, but I do not think that this is a reason to avoid it.  Far too often in Northern Ireland, the subject is ignored by mainstream politicians, leaving the worst or all worlds, with those women who have the resources going to Britain for terminations that are later than they need to be, with no proper support or exploration of alternatives.  I am personally instinctively ‘pro-life’ and want to see fewer abortions across the UK.  We can achieve this by better education, more serious treatment of rape and sexual abuse, better family planning services, and more support for families and disabled people. The criminal law in this case, as in other situations of desperation, is a blunt and ineffective bludgeon.

The encounters depicted in the Gospels between Jesus and women were shocking to contemporary society and even to his own disciples.  Jesus treated women as equals, intelligent and rational fellow humans whom he acknowledged and praised for their independence and incisive understanding.   From his own disgraced mother through the woman facing stoning for adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Mary Magdalene, they had broken social norms, particularly sexual ones, and were at risk of ostracism, disgrace and even death.  “Neither do I condemn you,” he said, and respected their right to make their own moral choices.  Perhaps those standing outside the Marie Stopes clinic might consider his example, and ask themselves whether it is really they, or Clare and the other voluntary escorts, who most closely follow the compassionate values of the Gospel.