The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended for almost three years following disagreements between nationalists and unionists in January 2017. In May 2017 the Belfast High Court made a ruling in the case of Sarah Ewart. She had travelled to England for an abortion due to a fatal foetal diagnosis. The High Court ruled, in Ms. Ewart’s case, that Northern Ireland’s anti-abortion legislation was a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In a free vote in the House of Commons in July 2019, this legislation was repealed, to take effect from midnight 21st October 2019, on the assumption that the Northern Ireland Assembly did not reconvene.
Yet such is the anti-abortion sentiment among DUP MPs they have decided, for the first time in three years, to gather in the assembly to register their protest. They cannot vote against the legislation because, without the presence of Sinn Fein, Stormont is not a functioning assembly.
Stephen Farry, an Alliance party MLA, told the BBC: ‘I am profoundly uncomfortable that the first time people are making an effort to have the assembly reconvened is to discuss how we can deny people rights.’ It is extraordinary that the DUP, whose raison d’etre is the union with the UK, should resist the implications of that union when it comes to human rights.
The very remarkable thing is that tomorrow, abortion will be legally available to women across all of the UK, for the first time. I wonder how many UK citizens are aware that this has not been the case until now. Even Ireland, a fast lapsing Catholic culture, got there before Northern Ireland.
To be sure there have been campaigns about the lack of abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland from international organisations such as Amnesty International and national organisations such as the National Secular Society, but the disposition of aspects of the British media deserves greater scrutiny. It rightly looks askance and rails against American Christian fundamentalism and the abuse of women’s rights in many Muslim majority countries. But such a disposition would only makes sense if, with even greater force, it had consistently condemned and campaigned against the denial of abortion rights to women that have been out of kilter with the rest of the UK since 1967 and have been the worst rights offered to women in Europe! It does not appear to have done that.
If the UK media or the UK government seeks to convince a wider public that they have any great interest in human rights generally and in their rights as citizens, then a better track record on the issue of abortion at home, in Northern Ireland would seem to be necessary. Theresa May said that the political climate made a change in the law in Northern Ireland untenable. Stella Creasy, has quite rightly spoken out against the pronouncements of the then Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, when he proposed that women who travel from Northern Ireland to the UK mainland for an abortion, should be charged for this. I wonder if Stella Creasy is also correct to have accused Downing St. of being prepared to hand back control of abortion rights to Stormont ‘to help curry favour with the DUP’ in advance of Johnson’s Brexit Deal.
 John Esposito and Natana J Delong-Bas Shariah What Everyone Needs To Know 289