Jo Gowers, women’s officer of NUS-USI, Northern Ireland’s Union of Students, has said that the union, and other organisations involved in women’s rights, must put pressure on politicians to make sure that Belfast High Court’s recent ruling on abortion is acted upon as soon as possible.
At the end of November, the High Court in Belfast reached the decision that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are in breach of human rights. It was determined that Northern Irish legislation breaches Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by not providing exception to the abortion prohibition in cases of fatal foetal abnormality at any time during pregnancy, or where the pregnancy is the result of a sexual crime up to the date of a foetus’ independent viability.
Speaking to Trinity News, Gowers said that she welcomed the ruling, but that NUS-USI must now work to ensure that the legislation is changed sooner rather than later.
NUS-USI has a pro-choice mandate based on a student vote, which Gowers is “extremely happy to be supporting” and sees as one of her priorities for the next year.
Another measure that she hopes to see implemented is that a clearer set of guidelines be set out for doctors and healthcare workers to follow so that they can deliver medical treatment to women without fear of criminalisation. “Abortions happen whether people like it or not, and it’s about whether we’re going to make them safe for women in cases where it’s a basic human right, and whether women’s bodies are still to be seen as property of the state,” she said.
According to Gowers, although a minority voted against their current mandate, NUS-USI have not experienced the same outcry by ‘pro-life’ students against the union as the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) did. “For people who are against it, I would say that absolutely they should be able to raise their voices within our student movement,” Gowers said, “but obviously we are going to follow the majority that we have been mandated to follow.”
Gowers explained that NUS-USI have taken part in a “cohesive movement” with Britain’s National Union of Students (NUS), USI, and other organisations like Amnesty International Northern Ireland and Alliance for Choice, to bring about changes in abortion legislation in the North. She attributed the High Court ruling in part to Amnesty International’s My Body, My Rights campaign.