Despite being part of the United Kingdom, abortion is treated differently in Northern Ireland. While abortion has been declared legal in Northern Ireland on certain health-based grounds, the guidelines for health professionals remain unclear. Though increasingly a topic of debate, many in Northern Ireland believe abortion to be completely illegal, and the countless barriers restrict abortion access only to women who can afford to travel to England to seek abortion care. Despite paying into the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, Northern Irish women who seek abortion care in other parts of the UK must pay out of pocket unlike all other UK citizens.
In a society in which abortion is highly stigmatized and restricted, the members of the Queen’s University Belfast chapter of MSFC have dedicated themselves to challenging their peers to improve their reproductive health education and to fight to improve the health care options for their future patients.
They held their very first event in December, a panel discussion on “International Women’s Health: Why Women Die” featuring expert panelists on medicine, human rights, and the history of abortion in Northern Ireland. As Kyle, a Queen’s University Belfast Student Leader, told me, “Our first event went really well, and had almost a hundred attendees. We got some great feedback and a couple of publications covered the event.” He continued, “From the event we developed both a mailing and members list – there are 25 people signed up to be members and around 90 on the mailing list.”
Following the overwhelming success of their first event, they held a hands on workshop on obstetrics emergencies just two weeks later which included a station on contraceptives and IUDs. Interest in that event was so high that they are already working on another contraception workshop at the end of February.
Hannah, another Student Leader at Queen’s University Belfast related, “It has been really exciting to be able to organize so many events, even more so that attendance has been so high! We are planning on running a few events this semester, including one entitled ‘Abortion: A Clinical Guide’ where we hope to explain abortion from a clinical perspective. We’ve received feedback from students that they would like to attend such an event, given that it’s not currently available on the QUB curriculum.”
We at MSFC HQ are so impressed with their work and we hope you will find it inspiring as well. Even in places that are extremely hostile to choice, medical students can and do successfully organize to promote education about family planning and reproductive choice!