Abortion law in Northern Ireland: An evolving story


The government was facing an embarrassing defeat after Commons Speaker selected an amendment from Labour MP Stella Creasy on abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland, demanding that they be given free access to terminations in England. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on the UK Government to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland and to ensure girls' access to safe abortion and post-care abortion services.

A proposed amendment to the Queen's Speech, coordinated by Labour lawmaker, Stella Creasy, gathered widespread support throughout the House of Commons.

Ms Creasy believes more than 500 MPs support her.

"However, women and girls from Northern Ireland will still have to bear the financial and emotional burden of having to travel for healthcare that should be available at home". Today, Belfast's Court of Appeal ruled abortion law in Northern Ireland should be left to the Stormont Assembly, not judges - which overturns an earlier ruling that the current abortion laws are incompatible with human rights laws.

50 years on, and with a new focus on Northern Ireland's women's rights record due to the Conservatives' deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, campaigners' hopes are high that things may finally be changing. Just a few weeks ago, the supreme court upheld Jeremy Hunt's policy of enforcing charges for Northern Irish women procuring abortions in England and Wales.

Is the law different in Northern Ireland?

While it's too much to expect the DUP at this stage to lift its opposition to elective abortion in Northern Ireland itself, what a change of atmosphere could be created if they promised to stop blocking same sex marriage in the Assembly.

But anticipating a further challenge to their ruling, the three-judge panel also took the highly unusual step of indicating they will grant leave to take the case to the Supreme Court in London. Northern Ireland only allows abortions if the woman's life is in danger or there is risk or permanent mental or physical damage.

The decision may yet be appealed, but whatever the outcome it will do nothing for the vast majority of women who do not have a diagnosis of a fatal foetal anomaly or who have not been sexually abused - but who are simply trying to make the choice that is right for them and their families when faced with an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy they can not continue'. This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality in treatment of women from Northern Ireland.

"What I can tell honourable members is the department for equalities and the Department of Health are discussing and looking very closely at this issue today".

Another amendment will push for a softer Brexit that allows Britain to remain part of the single market and customs union.