Global Health Reproductive Rights Womens Rights

New Laws in Northern Ireland Feature Abortion Stipulations in Wake of Decriminalization

Under new laws to soon be in effect, abortions will be allowed to take place up to 12 weeks “without conditionality” in Northern Ireland. Abortions after 12 weeks will be allowed only under certain circumstances, and the new laws stipulate that in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities there is no time limit for a person to obtain an abortion. Additionally, in circumstances where the continuation of the pregnancy involves risk to the woman’s physical or mental health that is greater than the termination of the pregnancy, abortion is permissible up until 24 weeks.

Members of Parliaments (MPs) in Northern Ireland decriminalized abortion in a landmark move in October of 2019. Regulations surrounding the procedure will go into effect next week. Although abortion was decriminalized last year, there is currently no statutory framework for permissible and lawful abortions. The decision by lawmakers to allow abortions up to 12 weeks under any circumstance is to ensure that victims of sexual crimes gain access to the medical procedure.

The regulations also stipulate the medical professionals who are permitted to perform an abortion: a doctor, a registered nurse, or a registered midwife. These professionals have the opportunity to be conscientious objectors; that is, they do not have to perform the procedure if they do not wish to participate. However, the framework says that the “only exception will be where the participation in treatment is necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman or girl.”

Health Minister Robin Swann is also granted considerable discretion within the new regulations to approve additional locations where abortions can be carried out, in addition to GP premises, clinics provided by a health and social care trust, and HSC hospitals. Women are allowed to obtain abortions in England until the provisions can be fully implemented in Northern Ireland.

The document released by the government points to the goal of ensuring that women do not need to travel to another part of the United Kingdom to obtain an abortion and cited global evidence that fewer restrictions on the procedure do not correspond to higher rates of abortion.

Sources: BBC, 3/25/20; National Review, 3/26/20

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