Belfast Telegraph

Adrian Dunbar calls for future PM to grant Northern Ireland abortion rights

Adrian Dunbar (Photo by Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images)
Adrian Dunbar (Photo by Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images)
Sarah Tulloch

By Sarah Tulloch

Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar is among the celebrities calling for the future Conservative Party leader to make legislative change to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws.

The Enniskillen-born actor signed a letter penned by London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign to the Conservative Party leadership candidates - one of whom will become Prime Minister next month - urging them to make women in Northern Ireland "finally equal to all other women in the UK".

The letter was backed by 44 other organisations and celebrities, including Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Stacey Dooley and Konnie Huq, demanding reform of the 1861 legislation that criminalises abortion in Northern Ireland in almost all circumstances.

Siobhan McSweeney of Derry Girls fame and Hollyoaks star Bronagh Waugh, who are both active campaigners for free, safe and legal abortion access, also signed the letter.

In the past, leadership candidates Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Rory Stewart, Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab have all voted in favour of restricting access to abortion, including reducing the legal limit for terminations and criminalising women for ending a pregnancy on grounds of foetal sex.

Tory party favourite Boris Johnson has always abstained on abortion-related votes.

The 1967 Abortion Act which governs the rest of the UK was not extended to Northern Ireland. A termination is only permitted in the region if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The UK Government has resisted calls to legislate for abortion in Northern Ireland, saying that it was a matter for a restored Stormont Executive.

Speaking to Grazia, actress and supporter of the London Irish abortion rights campaign, Sharon Horgan said: "‘Whichever one of these men becomes prime minister, he will have the power to stop women in Northern Ireland being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy or risk their life with an unsafe abortion.

"All we are asking is that instead of denying women the choice to have an abortion, he chooses to be a Prime Minister who puts this right and makes sure every woman and pregnant person in the UK is treated equally."

Read the full letter here:

Dear Conservative leadership candidates,

For too long, the human rights of women in Northern Ireland have been a bargaining chip for political power. We are asking you to make sure our voices are finally heard and our rights finally equal to all other women in the UK.

Abortion in Northern Ireland is effectively banned. The punishment is life in prison. There is no exception for rape.

The United Nations has said the law is 'tantamount to torture'. The Supreme Court has said the law is in need of 'radical reconsideration'. 28 women a week are forced to make the lonely journey away from Northern Ireland to access abortion, away from their support networks. Some cannot travel due to domestic abuse or insecure immigration status. Some take the risk of ordering illegal pills online.

It has been 50 years since the Abortion Act 1967 passed in England and Wales and Scotland. Stormont has not sat for over two years.

The next Prime Minister will have the opportunity to right this wrong and restore the UK’s standing as a beacon of human rights. It is Westminster legislation that holds back our future. That’s why we’re calling on you to pledge to ensure that every woman in the UK has equal access to safe, legal, free and local abortion services. You can do this by pledging that under your leadership parliament will hold a vote on whether to repeal section 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

Be the Prime Minister who shows they trust women. Be the Prime Minister who believes in treating all women equally. Above all be the Prime Minster who will not ignore us. We cannot wait any longer. We will not wait any longer.

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