IMELDA and reproductive justice in Northern Ireland

The actions documented here highlight our attempts to raise awareness of the inequality experienced by residents of Northern Ireland, who unlike those resident in England, Scotland and Wales are denied access to local abortion services. Those needing an abortion are forced to travel abroad. However, there are also those who cannot travel due to lack of funds or because of their asylum or refugee status.

Please note that a number of the actions detailed here occurred prior to 2017 decision of the Westminster government to enable residents of Northern Ireland to access abortion on the NHS in Britain. The government is also currently assessing funding for travel and accommodation for Northern Irish residents. While we welcome this change, it does little to ease the stress caused by having to travel abroad to access abortion services. Nor does it help those in precarious circumstances, such as those unable to travel due to their residency status or lack of financial resources.

IMELDA visits Secretary of Health, Jeremy Hunt's advice surgery
24 May 2014

 On Friday, May 23rd Speaking of IMELDA visited the Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Jeremy Hunt, in a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Farnham, Surrey during his ‘Advice Surgery’ for constituents. They advised Mr. Hunt regarding the recent English High Court ruling that women from Northern Ireland are not legally entitled to free abortions under the NHS in England. Wearing red and bearing red apples to which snippets of advice were attached, the IMELDA’s advised Mr Hunt that it is exceedingly clear from the High Court ruling that it is within the Secretary of State for Health’s power of office to make it easier for women from Northern Ireland to access safe and legal abortions in England. This is since the ruling states that the Secretary of State for Health can, without requiring parliamentary approval, amend the secondary legislation regarding the provision of emergency health care in England to U.K. citizens who are non-resident in England. (As such, the technical details of the ruling contrast with the media’s focus on the red herring issue of ‘devolutionary powers’ e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27325363  

IMELDA’s explicitly advised Mr. Hunt to use his power of office to stand up for the reproductive health rights of women in Northern Ireland by amending this secondary legislation so that these women are considered legally entitled to free abortions under the NHS in England. Taking juicy bites of the red ‘apples of advice’ before presenting them to Mr. Hunt, the IIMELDA’s asserted that it is incumbent on the English government to take a principled stand against this regressive and inhumane restriction on women’s freedom within the U.K. and that one part of this principled stand should include making it as easy as possible for women from Northern Ireland to access safe and legal abortions in England. After their camera woman was thrown out of the store and before the supermarket was shut down the IMELDA’s chanted “Mr. Hunt, it’s time you upset the patriarchal apple cart!” This chant obliquely referenced the callous and cynical political mis-use of the issue of women’s reproductive health rights, which has been a consistent theme during the process of devolution in Northern Ireland.

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WOW Festival, political pageant for Northern Ireland
8th March 2015 (International Women’s Day) 

Subverting the conventions of the beauty pageant in this event contestants (dressed in national symbols) were judged on the availability of reproductive rights in the various parts of the UK. Over the course of the pageant it becomes clear that while Ms England, Ms Scotland and Ms Wales have access to free, safe and legal abortion under the 1967 Abortion Act, there is a lack of parity in UK law. Ms Northern Ireland questions why Northern Irish citizens are denied the same rights and why those traveling to access abortion in England are not entitled to free healthcare on the NHS. On losing the competition, Ms Northern Ireland protests the inequality experienced by residents of Northern Ireland, banging a drum with Virgin Mary holy water bottles and declaring ‘We are not second class citizens left to rot.’ 

 Following the sentencing of a young woman in Northern Ireland for using an abortion pill (medication on the World Health Organisation's essential list of medicines), Speaking of IMELDA asked why British citizens in Northern Ireland  are not entitled to access the same abortion services as people in England, Scotland and Wales. Paying a visit to the British Passport Office and the building of the Northern Irish Executive in London they attempted to find out why a British passport does not guarantee equality. The IMELDA’s also sought to highlight how this inequality is most keenly felt by women who cannot afford to travel to Britain and to pay for an abortion that others UK citizens can access on the NHS. 

Neither Use nor Ornament Passport Action
7th April 2016
Game of Shame 
23rd May 2016

In the Game of Shame, Speaking of IMELDA, respond to the prosecution of a young woman in Northern Ireland for buying the abortion pill in April 2016. The young woman was given a three-month sentence, suspended for a year, for accessing medication, which is approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and freely available to other women in the UK on the NHS. This young woman, who could not afford to travel outside of Northern Ireland to access safe and legal abortion services, was reported to the police by her housemates because they felt that she was not ‘remorseful’ enough. In June 2016, another woman faced trial in Northern Ireland for accessing the abortion pill for her daughter. On 18th May 2016, this woman's court case was adjourned yet another time.

 With the ‘Game of Shame’, the IMELDA’s call on the UK government and Northern Irish Executive to stop gambling with women’s lives. The ‘Game of Shame’ resists the shaming and silencing of women who have had abortions. Performed outside the Supreme Court London the ‘Game of Shame’ highlights the inequalities that allow some UK citizens access to free, safe and legal abortion services while others face imprisonment. Taking the format of a game-show, the ‘Game of Shame’ demonstrates how the current law targets the most vulnerable in Northern Irish society, particularly those who cannot afford to travel to access safe and legal abortion services or those who are not permitted to travel. The interactions between the contestants and game-show hosts hold a mirror up to the lack of concern for women’s welfare and human rights, both within the current law and the actions of those who push for increased sentencing of women. The 'Game of Shame' loudly declares the right of women to be able to have agency over their own bodies and to be fully supported in making reproductive choices without moral condemnation.

Not Designed for Comfort: 9th April 2017

In this action Speaking of IMELDA, responded to the British government’s bequeathing of £250,000 of the so-called ‘tampon tax’ funds to anti-choice charity ‘Life.’ Staging an intervention by the sanitary product shelf in a Hackney Tesco store, the group demonstrated their outrage that money from the tampon tax was given to the biased anti-choice charity ‘Life’, which is ‘against abortion’ and perpetuates misinformation by wrongly linking abortion with breast cancer.

The action parodied sanitary brand adverts to highlight the irony that taxes from these brands, which often market themselves on enabling women to be uninhibited by their reproductive biology, are being used to restrict reproductive autonomy. In the action, members of  IMELDA posing as consumers, stage a discussion beside the sanitary product shelf in the store, while another member cheekily labeled all the sanitary products on display with stickers that stated ‘WARNING: ANTI-CHOICE PRODUCT’ and ‘#BLOODYOUTRAGE. Through the action the IMELDA’s demonstrate how they no longer have a consumer choice given that the taxes from the products they need monthly when they get their periods are being exploited to fund an anti-choice organization. Highlighting the lack of parity in existing UK laws, they question why money from the ‘tampon tax’ is not been given to Abortion Support Network, a charity which offers financial aid and support to women from Northern Ireland unable to afford to travel to Britain and pay privately for abortion, as unlike other UK citizens they are denied access to free abortion services on the NHS. In a demonstration of their disgust at the use of ‘tampon tax’ money to fund biased an anti-choice organization, the individuals in the video declare that all available sanitary products no longer ‘suit my flow’ and are not a ‘comfortable fit’, coming to the conclusion that the only seeming choice now ‘is to free bleed for comfort and conscience.’

We co-organised this demo after the establishment of the DUP-Tory alliance following the General Election 2017, forming the Reproductive Rights Coalition with other feminist organizations. The demo sent a clear message to the DUP, Westminster, and the world that we oppose the sustained denial of basic reproductive rights in Northern Ireland. We demanded Northern Irish politicians #trustwomen as we stood in solidarity with AFAB in Northern Ireland and our friends at Alliance For Choice.

 

The demo was organized by Speaking of IMELDA, London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Stop Trump, Fourth Wave: London Feminist Activists. Speakers included Mara Clarke of Abortion Support Network, Speaking of IMELDA, Ann Rossiter a former member of Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group (IWASG) Kerry Abel from  Abortion Rights, Sophie Walker from The Women's Equality Party and Fourth Wave: London Feminist Activists

We will not be DUP-ed: demo outside Downing Street London
22nd June 2017

In a effort to raise awareness in the UK that abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, on International Women’s Day 2015 the IMELDA’s staged a political pageant outside the Women of the World (WOW) Festival, London.