Some will take solace in the possibility that March’s snap election may return an Assembly led by an all-women Office of First and Deputy First Ministers, with Michelle O’Neill replacing Martin McGuinness as Sinn Féin’s ‘Leader in the North’.
This election may be dominated by the RHI scandal and Sinn Féin posters asking people to vote for equality. But this is also an election that comes at a time when women are still being criminalised for being unable to afford flights to England.
Courtney Robinson, Labour Alternative Candidate for East Belfast, has challenged O’Neill to “pick which side she is on” in the North’s ongoing denial of access to abortion services, and the criminalisation of women pursuing them. In a statement released yesterday, Robinson said:
“In 1967, abortion rights were won by women in Britain and in many countries across the world. Half a century on, women here continue to be criminalised for exercising control over their own bodies. How can Sinn Fein claim to stand up for equality when they support this continuing injustice? Martin McGuinness has clearly said that Sinn Féin is ‘an anti-abortion party’. Does Michelle O’Neill stand by this statement? If their talk of rights and equality is more than empty rhetoric, Sinn Féin should demand the immediate extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.”
Robinson went on to state that “ […with O’Neill’s appointment] there’s a strong possibility the next First and Deputy First Ministers will both be women. Arlene Foster says she is standing up to sexism and misogyny whereas Sinn Féin claim to be fighting for equality. Yet neither of them – in fact, none of the main parties – support a woman’s right to choose.”
Robinson has been a long term supporter of a woman’s right to choose, organising the ‘abortion pill drone‘ action which saw essential medicines brought across the border and taken outside the Royal Courts of Justice, in protest against the criminalisation of women who accessed these medicines. In closing her challenge, Robinson demanded that with the growing campaigns for a woman’s right to choose in both the North and South, Sinn Féin’s new Northern leader “must choose which side she’s on – real progress or continued denial of rights.”
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