Abortion will become legally available in Northern Ireland from today, after years of efforts to bring women’s rights in line with the rest of the UK and Ireland.
Last October the Westminster Parliament passed legislation that removed abortion from criminal law, repealing an 150-year-old law that made seeking an abortion an imprisonable offence. Northern Ireland Humanists lobbied the parliamentarians in support of this, with many members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group speaking and voting in favour. Today, new regulations governing abortion in Northern Ireland come into force.
The regulations allow women to access abortion services for any reason up to 12 weeks’ gestation, and up to 24 weeks in cases where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl, greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy. In cases where the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks, one medical professional will be able to certify the procedure rather than two.
It will also allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy has arisen as a result of sexual crime. Women will continue to be able to access abortion in cases where their life is at risk. Medical professionals who have a conscientious objection to abortion and would be directly involved in carrying out procedures will be able to withdraw from performing abortions, as is the case in the rest of the UK.
Humanists UK worked through the UK Parliament and intervened in all recent legal cases to extend abortion access. This included intervening in the Supreme Court case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in 2018 surrounding abortion in cases of sexual crime and foetal abnormality, the High Court cases brought by Sarah Ewart and by a mother facing prosecution in Northern Ireland for procuring abortion pills for her underage daughter in 2019, and the 2017 Supreme Court case regarding the imposing of charges on Northern Ireland women receiving abortion care provided by NHS in the rest of the UK. Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group championed amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive) Formation Act 2019 which paved the way for these regulations being laid.
Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘We are delighted that after more than 50 years of women in Northern Ireland being denied their sexual and reproductive healthcare rights, they are finally able to exercise autonomy over their bodies. They now have similar rights to their counterparts in the rest of the UK and Ireland. Furthermore, these regulations have moved healthcare forward massively by recognising the advances in abortion care over the last few decades and regulating accordingly.
‘However, we acknowledge that the health services are currently under huge pressure and therefore these regulations should include provisions that take account of that, by making it easier for women to access these abortion services during the current pandemic.’
For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7324 3078.
Read our previous news item on the decriminalisation of abortion.
Read more about our work on abortion.
Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.