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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

By decriminalising abortion, N Ireland has finally upheld women’s rights

Now, health workers do not have to worry about prosecution, and doctors will have to begin specialising in this service. All this does not mean that those opposed will not disrupt things, though the buffer zones, which will be in place outside hospitals, should help

editorials Updated: Oct 22, 2019 16:20 IST

Hindustan Times
Pro-choice activists take part in a photo call in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast, October 21, 2019
Pro-choice activists take part in a photo call in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast, October 21, 2019(AP)
         

The tragic death of an Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, has influenced one of the most momentous changes in Northern Ireland’s restrictive laws against abortion. She died when denied an abortion after a miscarriage in 2012. Her family’s pleas were ignored by doctors on grounds of the illegality of termination, triggering a debate on whether this was a violation of the Hippocratic oath. Last year, another woman won a legal challenge to travel to England for an abortion after she was diagnosed with foetal problems.

Northern Ireland’s laws so far prohibited abortion even in the case of incest and rape. So, the lifting of this 158-year ban on abortion in favour of decriminalisation is nothing short of historic. Attempts to scuttle this move by the anti-choice parties failed, bringing to an end the harassment of women for seeking autonomy over their own bodies and choices. The 66% vote against criminalisation is also a triumph for Prime Minister Leo Varadkar who pushed for it, despite the political consequences he could face. The State can now no longer intrude into the most personal of arenas.

Now, health workers do not have to worry about prosecution, and doctors will have to begin specialising in this service. All this does not mean that those opposed will not disrupt things, though the buffer zones, which will be in place outside hospitals, should help. This ought to send some signals to many in the United States who continue to oppose abortion on religious grounds to appease the extreme Right which seeks to deny women what is a basic right. Though the last political word on the issue may still be heard in Northern Ireland, there is no going back on this pro-women, pro-human rights move.