By Clay Waters
New York Times London-based reporter Ceylan Yeginsu reported on the abortion debate in Belfast under a flawlessly biased headline “Can Northern Ireland Cling To Its Draconian Abortion Laws?” Which put in mind Barack Obama’s condescending reference to working class Midwesterners who “cling to guns or religion.”
The online headline was also awful, albeit in a different way: “Climate of Fear: When Part of a Country Bans Abortion.” (“Bans abortion” is an odd way to describe a law that has been in place in Northern Ireland since 1861.)
It was one of the warmest days of the year, and Ciara was wearing a T-shirt to try to blend in with the vacationers at Belfast airport. But as soon as she boarded her flight to London, she noticed people staring at the dark purple bruises on her arm and the baby bump that stretched the fabric of her shirt.
“I’m sure some of it was paranoia, but I could tell from the way some folks looked at me that they figured out I was traveling for an abortion,” she said. Ciara, who is 32 and has two children, has asked to be identified in this article only by a childhood nickname, to protect her from her abusive former partner, who she said had threatened to kill her if she terminated the pregnancy.
While Ireland voted to legalize abortion last year, Northern Ireland — which is part of Britain — has shown no signs of liberalizing its draconian laws, allowing the procedure only when the mother’s life is in danger.
She warned that “many American women could be just a Supreme Court decision away from finding themselves in a similar position,” then went over the top with labeling:
Northern Ireland’s legislature has not met since 2017, and in that power vacuum, Britain’s Parliament recently passed a measure that would liberalize the region’s abortion laws in October unless a restored regional government intervenes. Arlene Foster, who leads the region’s largest political force, the ultraconservative Democratic Unionist Party, said this past week that she was determined to restore the assembly before the deadline.
Yeginsu underlined the story’s tone of the modern age fighting a moralistic Catholic backwater:
“We have a moral conservatism that’s much stronger even than in the south of Ireland,” Emma Campbell, co-chairwoman of the Northern Irish reproductive rights group Alliance for Choice. “We’re operating in a post-conflict, colonial environment where people’s identity is absolutely tied up to their religious upbringing. We’re moving toward secularism, but slowly.”
Activists worry that even if abortion is decriminalized, the anti-abortion movement will become more aggressive, as in Ireland after the liberalization there, opening fake abortion clinics to lure in women and then talk them out of having an abortion and holding protests outside real clinics.
Having come so close to liberalizing abortion in the past only to come up against familiar hurdles, some women remain skeptical about the new legislation, while others feel angry that they had to go through so much trauma and risk.
The print edition included this photo caption: “Emma Campbell, top, co-chairwoman of the rights group Alliance for Choice, said people’s identity in the region ‘is absolutely tied up to their religious upbringing.’”’
Yeginsu also covered the scuttling of abortion laws in Ireland earlier this year, “Same Obstacles for Abortion, Newly Legal in Ireland,” with the same hostile tone toward the pro-life side:
In May, Ireland voted decisively to cast aside one of the world’s most restrictive abortion bans, approving a new law that guarantees unrestricted abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and longer in situations in which there is a serious risk to the life or health of a woman, or in which there are fatal fetal abnormalities.
The historic result was hailed as an extraordinary victory for women’s rights, sealing a pronounced shift toward social liberalism — including in recent years the approval of same-sex marriage and the election of a gay prime minister — in a society that had long been dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.
But as Irish women are now discovering, the mere passage of a law cannot wipe away deeply held beliefs. Women seeking abortions are finding they must still contend with a deeply ingrained opposition that is hobbling the government’s efforts to make safe and efficient abortion services readily available.
Editor’s note. This appeared at Newsbusters and is reposted with permission.