By Susan Gately - 23 November, 2018
A Private Members’ Bill that aims to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland is to be debated today in Westminster.
In the run-up to debate, over 60 female celebrities from the world of film, politics and fashion have written an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May appealing to her to “stand with women and decriminalise abortion”.
“Give us choice and control over our own bodies. Show women from Northern Ireland that you won’t stand for them being governed by one of the harshest and cruelest abortion laws in the world,” they write.
The letter is signed by Hollywood actresses Kate Beckinsale, Claire Foy (who played Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix drama The Queen), Kristen Scott Thomas and Emma Thompson.
The move has been sharply criticised by the Northern Ireland pro life agency, Precious Life, who dismissed it as part of a “concerted and ferocious campaign to erode Northern Ireland’s legal protection for the unborn”.
“This letter represents a shrewd disrespect for the people of Northern Ireland, the majority of whom repeatedly voted for pro-life politicians,” said Bernadette Smyth, Director of Precious Life. “It also illustrates an unacceptable and totally audacious disregard for the principles of devolution.”
Explaining abortion was a “devolved matter”, Ms Smyth said that as a province Northern Ireland was the most recent part of the UK to vote on abortion – “and overwhelmingly rejected the cruel and inhumane practice.
“It is also important to note that the signatories of this letter are going entirely against women’s rights, ignoring point blank the regressive truth that over half of babies killed in abortion are girls.”
Noting that most of the celebrities were not from Northern Ireland, she said they needed to “butt out of Northern Ireland’s affairs” and “let our democratically elected representatives do the jobs which we have elected them to do, one of which is to protect the most vulnerable and defenceless in our society. These people have no superior standing or moral authority over anyone else.”
Abortion is permitted in Northern Ireland 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 1967 Abortion Act that governs the rest of the UK does not extend to Northern Ireland.
In 2016 a petition with 300,000 signatures was presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly calling for the protection of unborn children to continue in Northern Ireland.
“It’s 2018 and the women of Northern Ireland deserve better than abortion. They do not deserve ‘celebrities’ dictating to them that they must kill their children to achieve their dreams, careers and goals. That is not progress. That is not real compassion,” Ms Smyth concluded.