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Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May from women’s organisations on the DUP and abortion rights

Dear Prime Minister, 

We are writing to seek a categorical assurance from you that you will not allow women’s rights and, in particular, women’s access to abortion to be used in any kind of trade-off with the Democratic Unionist Party.  We would strongly oppose any proposal to re-open the issue of time-limits or to in any way restrict women’s access to abortion. 

As you will know, unlike elsewhere in the UK, abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. As a result, women in Northern Ireland are forced to travel to another part of the UK in order to access the same abortion services as women in the rest of the UK. This affects hundreds of women each year. Only those who can afford to travel and pay for treatment – as, despite being UK taxpayers, women resident in Northern Ireland are currently not entitled to NHS funded abortion care in England - can do so.  In 2015 a High Court Judge ruled that the current law on abortion in Northern Ireland was incompatible with human rights law. In his ruling, Mr Justice Horner said there was “one law for the rich and one law for the poor,” because the law makes it “much more difficult for those with limited means to travel to England.” 

Women in Northern Ireland, left with few other options, have turned to the internet to buy abortion pills - but they are then criminalised for doing so. Instead of contemplating any compromise the UK government should be focussing on extending access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland to give them the same rights as others in the UK.  This is not a devolved matter but rather a question of their fundamental human rights. 

We are a pro-choice country which supports a woman’s right to choose. In our last parliament, MPs across all the main political parties voted for a bill to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales.  50 years since the Abortion Act was passed, there is clearly an appetite to extend, not restrict, reproductive rights. 

We urge you - do not allow the clock to be turned back on women’s rights, and do not turn your back on the women of Northern Ireland. 

Yours, 

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, Trade Union Congress (TUC)

Sharon Greene, National Women’s Officer, UNISON

Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary: Equalities, Unite the union

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Justine Roberts, Founder, Mumsnet

Caroline Criado Perez, writer

Polly Neate, Chief Executive, Women’s Aid Federation of England

Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive, Royal College of Midwives

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, President-elect, and Dr Olwen Williams, Vice President, Medical Women’s Federation

Natalie Biernat, Emma Campbell, Emma Gallen, Jill McManus Dawn Purvis, Saoirse Johnston, Kellie O'Dowd, Danielle Roberts, Alliance for Choice, Belfast

Mark Breslin, Director, FPA Northern Ireland

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Jane Fisher, Director, Antenatal Results and Choices

Sarah Green, Co-Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition

Dr Kate Guthrie and Joanne Fletcher, Co-Chairs, British Society of Abortion Care Providers

Natika H Halil, Chief Executive, FPA

Vivienne Hayes MBE, CEO, Women’s Resource Centre (WRC)

Lesley Hoggart, Leading Reproduction, Sexualities and Sexual Health Research Group at the Open University

Sally Hunt, General Secretary, Universities and College Union

Jayne Kavanagh, Principal Clinical Teaching Fellow, UCL Medical School

Ian Lawrence, General Secretary, NAPO

Annette Mansell-Green, Head of Employment Relations, British Dietetic Association

Wendy Savage, Juliet Stevens, Pam Wortley, Jackie Turner, Sarah Wookey, Jeanette Cayley, Katy Gardner, Carol Jones, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion

Rebecca Schiller, Chief Executive, Birthrights

Marsha Scott, Chief Executive, Scottish Women’s Aid 

Eleri Butler, Chief Executive, Welsh Women's Aid

Sally Sheldon, Lawyers For Choice

Louise Sutherland, Director, Pankhurst Trust (incorporating Manchester Women's Aid)

Kerry Abel, Chair, Abortion Rights

Mara Clarke, Director, Abortion Support Network

Grahame Smith, General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress STUC

Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA)

Jillian Marchant, Abortion Rights Committee, Scotland

Caroline Lucas MP, Brighton Pavilion, Green Party

Sabrina Poole, Chair, Green Party Women

Mick Cash, General Secretary, RMT

Jonathan Bartley, Co-leader, Green Party