June 13, 2017 / 2:26 PM / 8 months ago

Protect women's rights, access to abortion, campaigners urge British PM May

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Leading women’s rights campaigners, trade unionists and medical experts urged British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday not to allow women’s rights and access to abortion to be used as a pawn in talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

May needs the support of the DUP, one of Europe’s most socially conservative parties, after failing to win a parliamentary majority in last week’s election.

The DUP has fought to maintain tight restrictions on abortions and opposes gay marriage.

“We are writing to seek a categorical assurance from you that you will not allow women’s rights, and in particular, women’s access to abortion to be used in any kind of trade-off with the DUP,” a letter to May signed by the heads of almost 30 organizations said.

Abortions are only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental and physical health.

As a result, hundreds of women in Northern Ireland are forced to travel to other parts of the U.K. to access abortion services but they are not entitled to a termination paid for by the National Health Service, the letter said.

Extending abortion rights to Northern Irish women is a matter of fundamental human rights, said the campaigners, which included Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory service, Cathy Warwick, head of the Royal College Of Midwives and Frances O‘Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress.

“Instead of contemplating any compromise the U.K. government should be focusing on extending access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland to give them the same rights as others in the U.K.,” the letter said.

Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said on Monday the Conservatives would not adopt the views of its intended partner on matters such as abortion and gay marriage.

Separately, the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW)urged May to ensure election pledges aimed at improving support and justice when women are abused are followed through.

“We expect to see women’s human rights defended and protected no matter what ‘deals’ are struck in the coming days and months, and as Brexit is negotiated,” Rachel Krys, co-director of EVAW, said in a statement.

During the election campaign, the Conservative manifesto made prominent commitments on new domestic violence legislation and promised a new watchdog to improve support for victims.

Levels of violence against women and girls in Britain is “extremely high” and includes one million domestic violence incidents a year and an estimated 85,000 rapes, EVAW said.

Reporting by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert , Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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