Time for change in Northern Ireland

Abortion law in Northern Ireland. Time for change.

In Northern Ireland, reproductive freedom is limited in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

Rape, incest and fatal fetal anomaly are not circumstances in which a woman can exercise her reproductive rights.

With the Republic of Ireland’s recent referendum paving the way for modern legislation, Northern Ireland will become the only place in the British Isles where women are denied abortion in almost every circumstance.

The law is outdated, ineffective and a conduit for inequality. It’s also inhumane. In June 2018, the UK Supreme Court found the law to breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Laws which force women to continue a pregnancy against their will:

  • are inhumane and contravene human rights
  • are ineffective and damaging to women’s health
  • perpetuate gender-based discrimination and inequality
  • are not in line with public opinion.

The evidence for change >>

The laws that govern abortion >>

What we are calling for

We want the UK parliament to protect women from forced pregnancies by repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

By decriminalising abortion, the UK Government would honour their international obligations set out by The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

A human rights compliant framework, governing access to reproductive services, would need to be established to give effect to the 2018 ruling of the UK Supreme Court that the law on abortion is incompatible with the right to respect for private and family life guaranteed by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Common questions

What about devolution, doesn’t it prevent Westminster from legislating? There is no constitutional impediment to the UK Parliament legislating to reform the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. UK Ministers have specific powers, under the law of devolution, to intervene in transferred matters. Devolution is also based on the existence of a Northern Ireland Executive and a First Minister, a deputy First Minister and Northern Ireland Ministers being in place. None of these has been in place since January 2017.

Why not have a referendum in Northern Ireland? Unlike the Republic of Ireland, the UK doesn't have a written constitution, so a referendum isn't necessary. The human rights of fellow citizens should not be put to a public vote.

Should the 1967 Abortion Act be extended to Northern Ireland? The 1967 Act did not decriminalise abortion and continues to leave women and healthcare professionals vulnerable to prosecution. Any change must comply with international human rights.