We welcomed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 being passed earlier this year, mandating the UK Government to provide access to abortion services in line with the UN CEDAW Committee’s recommendations in Northern Ireland by 31st March 2020. This legislation decriminalised abortion, repealing Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and placing a moratorium on abortion-related criminal prosecutions.
In much of the public discourse throughout our society surrounding access to abortion, the perception is often that only women will benefit from these changes to the law. In reality, many trans and gender diverse individuals who can get pregnant will use these services, and their wellbeing will improve as a result of those services being made available. For many trans men, non-binary and gender diverse people who can get pregnant, pregnancy can be a mental health emergency and can cause the rapid deterioration of an individual’s wellbeing. As a result, any services providing reproductive healthcare in the form of medical or surgical abortion will need to be developed with these different needs and experiences in mind.
We fully support the responses to the public consultation and the Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 screening by our friends Alliance for Choice.
Where there was an opportunity to take these needs and experiences into account – specifically, in the Section 75 equality screening the Northern Ireland Office chose to undertake on this legislation – the NIO did not to address any potential barriers to accessing abortion services for trans individuals. This was closely mirrored across almost all protected groups under Section 75: no barriers were identified for disabled people, LGB people, racialised groups, or those with dependents. This equality screening was wholly inadequate and did nothing to ensure that barriers to accessing services for those from diverse backgrounds were proactively addressed.
For trans communities to have meaningful access to abortion, this proactivity includes changing the language used when discussing the topic to incorporate and respect diverse experiences. Legislating for ‘women and girls’ to have access to abortion, and developing services based on this, will result in trans people self-excluding from these services and procuring backstreet abortions or travelling. In a worst-case scenario, the exclusionary language used throughout the consultation document and proposed legislation could be used to explicitly deny trans individuals who have accessed legal gender recognition access to abortion care.
Creating meaningfully accessible abortion in Northern Ireland means legislating for abortion services to be provided in a safe environment, locally, and in a way that ensures the comfort and wellbeing of patients. This must extend to trans individuals. As a result, this consultation response is written specifically from a trans-affirming and inclusive perspective, with the aim of ensuring that this legislation is fit-for-purpose for trans communities.