Since the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal its abortion ban a little over three weeks ago, attention has shifted to Northern Ireland where questions are being raised over the country’s archaic abortion policy and how it is that women in the North are still treated as second-class citizens when it comes to basic reproduction rights.
Ireland’s decision came in favour of repealing the restrictive 8th amendment by a comfortable majority of 66.4% and Leo Varadkar – the Irish Prime-Minster – hailed the result as a ‘quiet revolution’. And yet, it is clear that despite the social progression of Ireland as a whole, there are just a few individuals in the higher echelons of government who are intent on blocking the social advancement of the millions of women in Northern Ireland who, like their counterparts in the South, are rightfully demanding a greater say over their bodies and health.
The DUP – a party with an historic reputation for socially backwards policies – has continued to reject all calls for change. Arlene Foster has publically refuted calls for a Northern Ireland abortion vote and this blatant disregard for the will of the Northern Irish people is a slap in the face for both democracy, and the women across the country she claims to serve.
Polls in the country have shown a clear gap between the DUP leadership and the Northern Irish public when it comes to abortion rights. A recent Amnesty International survey found that almost 3 in 4 people in the country believe women should be able to end a pregnancy if it has occurred as a result of rape or incest, or if there is a fatal foetal abnormality.
These circumstances are criminalised under the existing draconian laws and the DUP refuse to recognise that social policy should not be determined by a minority group of politicians, but by the people whose lives are affected by the cruelty of the current system.
With the lack of a devolved assembly in Stormont, the power of DUP to block reform remains absolute and their control over the Tory government means that Theresa May has refused to intervene in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister has excused her inaction by calling abortion a ‘devolved matter’ but the truth is, her government’s reliance on the DUP’s support is costing the Northern Irish people their right to both democratic expression and social change.
Thanks to the deal struck between the Conservatives and the DUP, the latter can continue to prevent the advancement of female reproductive rights with impunity and this is surely the sign of a failed government. When social progression is prevented by the will of a few politicians, we must all question the Tory’s ability to rule effectively and if May continues to be shackled by the DUP’s backwards policy, there is no doubt that it will come back to haunt her in future elections.
As for Arlene Foster. She remains a fundamentally hypocritical politician who refuses any suggestion that the UK be treated differently to Northern Ireland in regards to the EU, but remains happy to protect the differing social policies with the rest of the UK. Like any politician however, she is not immune to the strength of the people in a democracy. The DUP will continue to block social reform and Theresa May will continue to do nothing about it, but ultimately it will be the Irish people who determine the fate of their country. Those who ignore the democratic will of their voters will not survive long.