Northern Ireland's Abortion Law: The Morality of Silence and the Censure of Agency
ABSTRACT. This article explores the context within which abortion law and discourse in Northern Ireland must be situated and understood, relying in part on post-modern insights into the wider and long-term implications of feminists engaging law and by examining the strategies employed in Northern Ireland around the issue of abortion. In 2001, the Family Planning Association (Northern Ireland) took legal action to force the devolved government to defend at a procedural level the unequal and uncertain form of common law abortion regulation for Northern Ireland. The authors examine the strategy of this review as well as the response of the High Court, suggesting that while it may begin to challenge the legitimacy of abortion law, feminists and pro-choice advocates must prepare for challenges beyond that, the greatest being the cultural challenge. The courts, legislators and other public and political institutions (including the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition) consistently explain the law's lack of provision for women with reference to the 'pro-life' majority views of Northern Irish people. The authors question the legitimacy of this claim in a cultural climate of intimidation against the expression of alternative views. Women will continue to be marginalised and devalued in this debate if the silencing of the pro-choice community and bodies responsible for protecting human rights is not redressed. A case is therefore made for a reconceptualisation of the abortion debate from the perspective of women's agency, which, alongside litigation and other strategies, is necessary to overcome the cultural censure that currently prevents meaningful dialogue.