Abortion row: Netflix and Disney stay silent on Northern Ireland ban

Media firms threaten to boycott US state but will not comment on North’s stricter laws

Game of Thrones: HBO’s filming of the series in Northern Ireland has helped its film and television industry boom. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones: HBO’s filming of the series in Northern Ireland has helped its film and television industry boom. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

 

Netflix and Disney, which are threatening to pull film production in Georgia over the US state’s new abortion law, will not comment on whether they will continue to make shows in Northern Ireland, where women face even more restrictions on their reproductive rights.

Georgia’s proposed law, which has prompted a growing boycott from the entertainment industry and leading actors, will ban women from seeking an abortion after six weeks. By comparison, Northern Ireland’s long-standing ban on abortion is absolute from the moment of conception, with anyone obtaining an abortion theoretically facing life imprisonment.

“It shouldn’t be one rule for Georgia and one rule for Northern Ireland,” Emma Campbell, of the Northern Irish campaign group Alliance for Choice, says. “There needs to be some consistency,” she adds, suggesting there is often a “blind spot” when it comes to the reality of life for women in Northern Ireland, who have to travel abroad for a termination. “Companies like Disney making a public statement could put political pressure on in a way that an activist group like ourselves just can’t.”

Film and television producers were attracted to Georgia by the state’s tax breaks but have now found themselves in the middle of a debate over abortion legislation. Most have chosen to stay quiet, but Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, has been one of the few media executives willing to publicly speak out on the topic.

This week he would consider pulling his company out of the state – where it makes shows such as Stranger Things – if the proposed abortion law comes into effect, while also saying Netflix would join in legal efforts to fight the new legislation. “Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we’ll continue to film there, while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to,” he said in a statement. “Should it ever come into effect, we’d rethink our entire investment in Georgia.”

But Netflix declined to comment on whether it would take a similar approach to Northern Ireland, where it has filmed the gameshow Flinch and is coproducing the drama Marcella with ITV.

This week Disney’s chief executive, Bob Iger, also said it would be “difficult” for his company to continue filming in Georgia if the law came into effect, because “many people who work for us will not want to work there”.

Disney did not respond to requests for comment on whether it would adopt a similar stance towards Northern Ireland, where it has recently filmed scenes for the forthcoming Artemis Fowl film.

Northern Ireland’s film and television industry has boomed in recent years, aided by the success of the HBO series Game of Thrones, much of which was filmed there.

Sophie Turner, who played Sansa Stark in the series, told Sky News she had signed a public pledge to no longer work in US states with strict abortion laws. When it was pointed out she had filmed eight series of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, she said “luckily we’re moving on”. – Guardian