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Humanists back new efforts in parliament to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland

Humanists UK is backing two new pushes by MPs which would decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks in Northern Ireland.

Tomorrow members of the House of Commons will vote on a Ten Minute Rule Bill brought forward by Labour MP Diana Johnson which would decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The change would remove abortion from criminal law so that abortion is solely considered as a medical decision made between a woman and her doctor, and governed by medical regulation rather than criminal law, like all other medical procedures.

Then on Wednesday, MPs will also vote on an amendment to another bill which seeks to remove abortion from criminal law in Northern Ireland specifically and, if passed, will ensure legal access to abortion in Northern Ireland. The amendment would bring about legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland as well.

Humanists UK and Northern Ireland Humanists are supporting both efforts, and the #NowforNI campaign that has been launched in their favour.

Abortion law in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe and the criminal sanctions imposed are amongst the harshest in the world, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. It is only legal in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. A Supreme Court judgment earlier this year said that for human rights reasons, abortion must become legal in the cases of rape or incest, or where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

Current restrictions force women to either travel to the UK to receive treatment, risk prosecution for procuring illegal online abortion pills, or continue their pregnancies against their wishes and in violation of their rights. There is no exception made for pregnancies that arise as a result of sexual crime or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator said:

‘It is utterly disgraceful that even in 2018 women who choose to have an abortion still face extreme punishments such as life imprisonment for having to make what is often a very difficult decision.

‘The rights of women to make their own decisions about their own bodies must be paramount in abortion law reform and we urge MPs to make a strong stand on human rights by voting to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland where the 1968 Abortion Act has never applied.

‘It is also shocking that Northern Ireland women have to travel unnecessarily long distances to have an abortion. They should be given the same access and rights to free local abortions as women already have in Britain.

‘Women also face terribly unfair stigma and harassment from some parts of society who believe it is not a woman’s right to make autonomous decisions about her own body. A vote to decriminalise abortion would also send a strong message that the abuse and harassment of women is completely unacceptable.’

Humanists UK has a long history of campaigning to support women’s sexual and reproductive rights from a ‘pro-choice’ position on abortion. It was the first intervener in the Supreme Court case.

New Amnesty International polling in support of the bill found 65% of adults in Northern Ireland agreed that abortion should not be a crime and 66% of Northern Irish people (as well as 78% of British people) are in favour of Westminster intervening to approve decriminalisation.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 0781 55 89 636, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on or on 07918 975 795.

For more information about Humanists UK’s campaigning work on abortion, visit

Humanists UK recently intervened in a Northern ireland abortion case. Read more at

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.

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

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