A woman who had an abortion after being told her baby would not survive outside the womb has urged the Democratic Unionists to “walk a mile in her shoes” before judging her actions.
Sarah Ewart left Northern Ireland for a termination in England in 2013 in the most “traumatic” of circumstances.
She has fought a long legal battle to liberalise abortion law in Northern Ireland in the face of opposition from the country’s largest unionist party and would like to see Prime Minister Theresa May step in.
Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK or Ireland where the procedure is largely outlawed after the Republic voted overwhelmingly for change in a referendum at the weekend. Prime minister Leo Varadkar has said new laws will be in place there by the end of the year.
Ms Ewart said: “I would just say to the DUP, walk a mile in our shoes before you make a judgment, because it is very difficult and a very devastating time, and it is very traumatic to have to travel when you are grieving for a baby … it is just awful.”
Campaigners believe Northern Ireland’s strict law violates women’s human rights by not allowing abortions in cases of rape and where the foetus would not survive birth due to a fatal abnormality.
The Stormont Assembly is suspended due to the collapse of powersharing more than a year ago and the British government is under pressure to step in and bring the region in line with the rest of the UK, and legalise terminations.
Ms Ewart said: “This is a medical procedure.
“Nobody knows what is going to land at their door. We as a family were probably judgmental before this landed at our doorstep. We heard the word abortion, not for one minute would we have thought it was for a medical reason.”
Ms Ewart’s legal case galvanised an issue which has since made its way to the UK Supreme Court.
Mrs May is under pressure to intervene on the issue in Northern Ireland following the two-to-one vote in favour of reform in the Republic of Ireland.
The Conservative government, which lacks a majority in Westminster, made a deal to be supported on key votes by the ten MPs from the DUP, which opposes any relaxation in the law and which has opposed any change in Northern Ireland under devolution.
Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigns manager Grainne Teggart said: “Devolution is no justification for the denial of women’s rights and it does not relieve the UK government of their responsibility to ensure that women’s right to abortion is upheld.
“A failure to act would make Theresa May’s government complicit in the harm and suffering of women caused by Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws.”
The Irish government has said the Republic has “set the tone” for what should happen in Northern Ireland.
The proposed legislation will allow abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to the 24th week in exceptional circumstances.
The Irish Cabinet is due to meet today to consider a memo on the way forward.