Referendum result will put pressure on NI to legislate for abortion

Pro-choice campaigners say only a matter of time until abortion is legalised in North

Pro-choice campaigners in Derry have welcomed the "amazing" Yes vote in the referendum, which they say will increase pressure to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

"Once the proposed legislation is passed, Northern Ireland will be the only part of western Europe where abortion remains illegal and where women are forced to travel for healthcare," said Alliance for Choice's Derry spokeswoman, Goretti Horgan, who organised canvassing teams to campaign for a Yes vote in Donegal.

“Given that we’re supposed to be part of the UK, the very least they could do is give us basic rights,” she said.

“We’re all delighted by the result. We were fairly confident that we would have a yes vote but to have such an overwhelming one is just amazing.”


She said the result has confirmed that people in Ireland are overwhelmingly pro-choice.

“I actually have a t-shirt on that says, ‘we are the pro-choice majority’ and for years I’ve thought that, but now we actually have proof in the referendum that’s the case.”

She described the result as “emotional”.

“There were people crying all over the country, and I think the yes side were crying as much as the no side because we were thinking of all the women who this has come too late for,” said Horgan.

In Northern Ireland abortion is illegal in most circumstances, including in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, incest or rape.

Travel expenses

Since June 2017, women in the North have been able to access free abortions on the National Health Service (NHS) in England or Scotland, with travel expenses covered for those in financial hardship.

“It’s bound to have an impact,” said Horgan, “if only because it means that once the law is changed in the South women in the North will just have to get in their cars or get on the train to be able to access an abortion, hopefully”.

"Abortion remains a criminal act across the UK, not just in Northern Ireland – there are women in jail in Britain for buying and taking abortion pills from the internet, so we in Alliance for Choice would hope that the push to bring about change in Northern Ireland can bring about change in the criminal law in all of the UK."

An American now living in Derry, Becca Bor also campaigned for a Yes vote in Donegal.

“It’s like the equal marriage referendum, it was brilliant in the South, but it was also transformational here in the North,” said Bor.

“Without a doubt, people in the North now want equal marriage, and that wasn’t necessarily the case before the referendum in the South, so I think there’ll be a similar sea-change in public sentiment in the North as well on abortion.

“We are connected, we are as one people in terms of what affects us, and changes south of the Border inevitably extend north of the Border.

“What people begin to think, and the type of pressure they’ll put on their politicians will change markedly.

“It’s only going to be a matter of time until abortion is legalised in the North,” she said.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times