This year marks fifty years since the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act which governs abortion in England and Wales and is the basis of similar law in Scotland. The Act was never extended to Northern Ireland where abortion is only permitted in more limited circumstances.
On 18 January 2017, Both Lives Matter released a report which estimated that around 100,000 individuals were alive today in Northern Ireland because of the difference in law as compared to Great Britain. The report itself can be found here.
As part of the launch of the Both Lives Matter campaign and this report, we paid for billboard advertisements in a number of sites around Northern Ireland. The billboards highlighted the 100,000 figure and asked why anyone would want to change that. You can see an image of the billboard here.
Fourteen co-ordinated complaints were made about the billboard to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which regulates all forms of print and broadcast advertising in the United Kingdom. The complainants alleged our billboard was “inappropriate, inaccurate and offensive.” On 9 February, Both Lives Matter received a letter from the ASA outlining the complaints and launching an investigation.
A draft recommendation received from the ASA initially indicated that the complaint would be upheld. After further correspondence between the ASA and Both Lives Matter, the ASA appointed an independent epidemiologist (specialist medical statistician) to rigorously scrutinise the methodologies behind the 100,000 estimate. This expert was not funded by or known to Both Lives Matter. The expert concluded that our estimate constituted a reasonable probability.
So on 21 July, after a five month investigation, the ASA Council met and agreed that the complaints should not be upheld. In the final ruling embargoed until today, 2 August 2017, the ASA Council stated the following:
“On balance, we concluded that the evidence indicated that there was a reasonable probability that around 100,000 people were alive in Northern Ireland today who would have otherwise been aborted had it been legal to do so.”
So what? Why does this matter?
Well this result is momentous for a number of reasons:-
- It shows that the law in Northern Ireland saves lives. An estimated 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland today who would not be if we had adopted the 1967 Act. This is something to be celebrated and cited widely in future discussions around abortion anywhere across these islands.
- We can be even more confident in our 100,000 estimate. Both Lives Matter made the claim based on our own research. We were always confident in the 100,000 figure because we were diligent and deliberately conservative. However our claim, research and methodologies have now been robustly interrogated and verified by an independent expert via a state funded regulator.
- It shows the vital link between law and culture. Our research claimed that law helps to shape and create cultural norms. So laws which restrict abortion to much more limited situations can help to shape cultural attitudes to it.
- It provides evidence that refutes the claim that laws which restrict abortion make no difference to the number of abortions. Many pro-choice activists claim that laws which restrict abortion make no difference to the actual number of abortions. The evidence from this research refutes this claim. This research is right up to date and Northern Ireland makes the best comparator with the rest of the UK and many other Western countries.
- It will help other jurisdictions as they seek laws which honour women and unborn children. The life-affirming impact of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is clear. It should be emulated and used as a precedent for other jurisdictions who are looking to protect the life, health and dignity of both women and unborn children as far as possible.
- Northern Ireland’s law has protected the lives of our neighbours, friends and family. The figure of 100,000 people equates to filling the Kingspan stadium (or Windsor Park) five times over. It would fill Croke Park and leave 20,000 people outside. Every year the number of lives saved equates to 100 primary school classes.
This result is great news. You can celebrate with us by helping to share it as widely as possible.