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Campaigning for abortion rights in Northern Ireland

People travelling to N. Ireland for Christmas are tweeting for choice

Campaigners are sharing photos of themselves in airports and on trains to protest Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws

People are taking a stand against restrictive abortion law in Northern Ireland by sharing photos of themselves travelling home for Christmas on social media.

Under the hashtag #Choice4Xmas, the campaign calls on Northern Ireland to grant its citizens the right to safe and legal abortion in solidarity with the hundreds of women who have to travel from the country to other parts of the world to obtain the procedure lawfully.

Only 13 women had terminations in Northern Irish hospitals in 2016/17, while more than 900 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for the procedure in 2017 alone.

Despite it being part of the UK, abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only in cases where the mother's life is at serious risk or if there is a permanent threat to her mental or physical health from the pregnancy. The 1967 Abortion Act, which established legal abortion across the UK, was never applied in Northern Ireland.

Abortion rights group the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, which is leading the activist campaign, is encouraging people to tweet their journeys home to symbolise the journey that is taken by the hundreds of Northern Irish women forced to obtain abortions in other countries. Most travel to England, Wales and Scotland, with some going as far as The Netherlands to have the procedure.

The campaign is also pushing for people to buy Christmas presents from Alliance for Choice, a Northern Irish abortion rights charity selling pro-choice merch, and donate to Abortion Support Network, the England-based charity that helps fund women's trips overseas to obtain the procedure.

The efforts are part of the wider crusade, known as #NowForNI on social media, seeing activists argue that it is time for abortion to be legalised in the country to prevent women having to travel overseas.

Just one week has passed since the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland’s southern neighbour, passed a bill to legalise abortion in the country through its final stage in the Oireachtas, Ireland’s parliament.

In May, Irish voters said in a historic referendum that it was time to repeal the country's eighth amendment, the law that equates the life of a woman and a foetus and so makes abortion illegal in nearly all cases. New law allowing women to terminate pregnancies in the Republic is due to come into action in January 2019.

Since the vote, women in Northern Ireland and abortion rights campaigners have argued that it makes little sense for the countries to have different abortion laws, given that women will travel across the Irish border as well as to England, Wales and Scotland, to obtain terminations.

Activists frequently point out that it is unfair for women to have different access to healthcare dependent on where they live in the UK.

Northern Ireland’s laws have been criticised by lawmakers elsewhere. The High Court ruled in 2016 that Northern Irish abortion law was incompatible with the human rights of women, while a UN Committee on eliminating discrimination of women said the country was violating women's rights with its restrictions on access to abortion in 2016.

As Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who has been campaigning for equal abortion rights in Northern Ireland, has said: “All the women of the UK deserve to be treated as equal citizens.”

For more, view our series Ireland Unfree, which chronicled the movement for repealing the eighth amendment in the Republic of Ireland.