I’m marching my suitcase to parliament for my Northern Irish sister’s abortion rights

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I'm marching my suitcase to parliament for my Northern Irish sister's abortion rights



Siobhan McSweeney and Nicola Coughlan have given their voices to the cause (Picture: PA)In the very first episode of Derry Girls, we meet James, Michelle’s cousin. Michelle tells us, ‘My auntie went to England years ago to get the abortion, never came back. Never got the abortion either. Look at you James!’
None of Michelle’s friends bat an eyelid.
And why would they? For them, the fact that a woman would have had to travel by plane for an abortion would have been nothing out of the ordinary.

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Derry Girls is set in the 90s. Now, it’s almost two decades later and women from Northern Ireland are still having to board planes to access a healthcare service which is freely and legally available to all other women in the UK and now Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s abortion law was set in the Victorian times. It’s one of the strictest in the world. I find it unbelievable that women can still face life imprisonment for having an abortion.
The UK Government has responsibility for the rights of all its citizens. But it often seems like politicians forget that Northern Ireland is a part of the UK too. It shouldn’t be one set of rules for some and different rules for others.

Derry Girls is set in the 90s. Now, it’s almost two decades later and women from Northern Ireland are still having to board planes to access a healthcare service (Picture: Channel 4)That’s why I’m taking part in Amnesty International’s demonstration today, calling for the decriminalisation of abortion.
I’ll be one of 28 women marching on Westminster – each of us wheeling a suitcase – in solidarity with the 28 women who each week are forced to pack their suitcases and fly from Northern Ireland to England for an abortion.
We’ll be taking Amnesty’s petition with more than 62,000 signatures the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
I hope she finally listens to what so many have been saying for so long. That it’s time for the North and we need to see change.
We’re not going to silently suffer and wait whilst Brexit dominates all political debate. We’ve waited far too long for this already – Northern Irish women deserve their rights now.
Among the women marching with me today is my fellow Derry Girl Nicola Coughlan, MPs from across all UK political parties including Diana Johnson, Heidi Allen, Karin Smyth and Christine Jardine, Belfast students and abortion rights campaigners.

The Repeal movement is not over (Picture: PA Wire)We’ll also be joined by Denise, a woman who arguably qualified under Northern Ireland’s existing law for a termination and whose pregnancy was also given a fatal foetal diagnosis.
Denise was unable to travel for an abortion. With no legal access to the procedure in Northern Ireland, she was forced to go through the traumatic experience of continuing her pregnancy which resulted in her delivering a still born baby. It’s heart-breaking and shocking that the current law treats women like this.
When you meet people like Denise, who have had their whole life changed because of the cruelty of Northern Ireland’s abortion law, it brings home just how crucial and urgent the change is.

The UK Government must listen to us. It’s time for Northern Ireland (Photo: Amnesty International)We can’t let women like Denise continue to suffer. We can’t let another 28 women, week on week, make the difficult journey to England.
Last year, the Repeal campaign was huge for the rest of Ireland. I feel so proud that Ireland said yes to women’s reproductive freedom.
But it’s not the end of that campaign. We can’t be complacent now.
We’d be letting all women down if we didn’t continue the momentum of that historical moment to help Northern Irish women win their rights too.
That’s why I’m supporting Amnesty’s campaign for decriminalisation. We’ll stand with our sisters in the North until they have the same rights as all other women in the UK and Ireland.
The UK Government must listen to us. It’s time for Northern Ireland.
MORE: Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan based boffin Clare on someone she knows: ‘They’ve probably worked it out’
MORE: Women from Northern Ireland will be able to get abortions in the Republic
MORE: I was forced to travel to England from Belfast to abort my baby after I was told she wouldn’t live

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