Belfast Telegraph

Alabama abortion move is likened to 'shameful' Northern Ireland law

Devastating news: Grainne Teggart
Devastating news: Grainne Teggart

By Stephen Jones

Amnesty International has compared Alabama's vote for a near-total ban on abortion to the situation in Northern Ireland, claiming the state is "pushing women's reproductive health into the dark ages".

After the US state's Republican-dominated Senate backed a near-total ban, the title of Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale began trending on social media, with many opponents drawing comparisons to the dystopian classic.

If approved by Alabama's governor, it would become the US's most stringent law on terminations of pregnancy.

The bill would block abortions in the event of rape and incest, and features an exception only when the woman's health is at serious risk - virtually the same as the law in Northern Ireland.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty UK's Northern Ireland campaign manager, said: "It's devastating news that Alabama has become the latest in a string of US states to enact a horrifying abortion ban.

"The roll-back on reproductive rights in the US is happening at a terrifyingly rapid rate.

"We should be outraged by this, but let's also remember that in the UK we're no better - women in Northern Ireland are subjected to one of the most severe abortion bans in the world which also carries criminal penalties of up to life imprisonment.

"It's shameful that our Government is allowing such a violation of reproductive rights to continue to blight the lives of so many.

"The UK Government's silence on the situation in Northern Ireland is putting the UK in the same camp as those US states pushing women's reproductive health into the dark ages.

"We should be leading on this issue, not lagging behind.

"We call on the Government to stop ignoring the cruel reality of our law and urgently legislate for change so that the harm caused is brought to an end."

Meanwhile, British journalist Helen Lewis tweeted: "For anyone horrified by Alabama's proposed abortion ban, or calling it Gilead. Look closer to home!

"Northern Ireland does not permit abortions even in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

"The ONLY exception is endangerment to a woman's life."

Abortion laws in the country are devolved to the Assembly, which has been suspended since 2017.

Within hours of the Alabama vote, US Google searches for The Handmaid's Tale were up on previous days and many took to Twitter to make comparisons with the book, which was recently dramatised in a popular TV series.

The story focuses on an imagined future when an authoritarian government named Gilead attains control of the former United States.

With fertility rates falling, those women able to conceive become Handmaids, forced to submit to ritualised rape to bear children for powerful men and their wives.

Writer Caitlin Moran shared an image of the 22 male senators who voted against an exception for rape or incest, adding: "Gilead is being brought to you by the following people."

Similarly, lawyer Dr Ann Olivarius posted: "They all read The Handmaid's Tale and thought it was a set of instructions?"

Representative Terri Collins, the bill's sponsor, said it recognised the "baby in the womb is a person".

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