By: Naomi Cantley
The recent prosecution of a young woman who terminated her own pregnancy has brought to light another side of the abortion debate in Northern Ireland. The World Health Organisation estimate that 68,000 women die every year due to complications of unsafe abortions around the world. Although the majority of these cases are in the developing world, the current legal status of abortion domestically makes it all the more likely that our women will add to these statistics.
Like it or not, women will conceive when they don’t want a child and, consequently, seek abortion. If a safe abortion is not available, they will take matters into their own hands. Holding onto the idea that women simply will not seek abortions is destructive as it is so far from reality. Unsafe abortions remain a clandestine affair, so accurate statistics are hard to come by. In countries where abortion has been legalised, they have only become safer, but the conditions for women seeking abortion in Northern Ireland, due in part to the increasing availability of abortion drugs ordered from the internet, has only become more precarious.
In Northern Ireland, abortions are legal in the case that the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. Unwanted pregnancy did endanger the life of the woman prosecuted for aborting her own foetus. Abortion drugs sold online are often not what appear to be and can cause death to the mother. If a woman does try to terminate her own pregnancy and there are complications, it is incredibly unlikely that she will seek medical help for fear of prosecution. Instead her fate is left to online drug distributors.
Terminating a pregnancy is never ideal and the fear that legalising the practice will increase rates of abortion is rational, but this doesn’t appear to be the pattern. Approximately 12 out of every 1000 women in western countries where abortion is legal have abortions, while 32 out of every 1000 women in Latin America where the practice is illegal will have an abortion.
Legalising abortion is unlikely to increase the rate of abortions. Whether women travel to England, or attempt to abort their pregnancy themselves, abortion being illegal does not stop the practice among Northern Irish women. Even those who have personal moral qualms with abortion cannot deny that the law is ineffective in preventing it. The reality is that abortion is happening and will continue to happen, regardless of the law. Politicians in Northern Ireland are pursuing the fantasy of an abortion-free society, but it will never come to fruition. No one can stop foetuses being aborted, but there is no need to endanger the lives of women in the process.