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Belfast City Council passes motion supporting decriminalisation of abortion

Last night, Belfast City Council passed a motion to supporting decriminalisation of abortion and condemning the arrest and prosecution of women who use online abortion pills. The motion, which was proposed by councillors from Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party, passed by 34 votes to 16 with five abstentions. Humanists UK, which is intervening in a judicial review of the decision to prosecute a Northern Ireland mother for procuring abortion pills for her underage daughter, welcomes this motion as a step in right direction towards the realisation of women’s reproductive rights.

Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive laws governing abortion in Europe. The 1967 Abortion Act, which applies in Britain, was never extended to Northern Ireland, where abortion in all bar the most extreme cases remains a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Abortion is not permitted in cases where the pregnancy has resulted from a sexual crime – such as rape or incest – or if there has been a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. As a result of these restrictions an estimated 2,000 women a year travel from Northern Ireland to England to access abortion services.

A study carried out last year by the University of Texas found that in 95 percent of cases, women in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland who used online-purchased abortion pills safely ended their pregnancies and did not require medical attention, and none of those who did require medical attention had any serious lasting side-effects. This study concluded that online abortion advice and pills are safe for women to use and arguments for their restriction on the basis of safety concerns are unfounded.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, ‘We are delighted that Belfast City Council has recognised the injustice of bringing prosecutions against women who have no other option but to procure abortion pills online and support taking abortion out of criminal law. Although this is an important step, it remains the case that until such time as there is safe, legal, free, and local access to abortion services in Northern Ireland, women’s rights will not be fully realised in the country.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on or 07951 176 245, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on or on 07470 395090.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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