UK Report: Govt Must Act On NI Abortion Laws

The government must act to address the "confusion, fear and inequality" surrounding abortion law in Northern Ireland, a UK report has found.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee highlighted the impact of the political stalemate in the region, with no devolved government to respond to developments, no scrutiny bodies to ensure policies are running well and no monitoring of UK Government funds for women and girls travelling to England for an abortion.

It also highlighted a failure to respond to international human rights obligations, with a UN Committee finding "grave" and "systematic" breaches of women's rights.

The power sharing institutions were dissolved in January 2017 when the DUP and Sinn Fein split in a bitter row over a flawed energy scheme. Government departments have been operating ever since without Ministerial guidance.

The UK Supreme Court also identified a breach in relation to cases involving foetal fatal abnormality or pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest, and said evidence of significant numbers of abortion pills that have been purchased online and sent to the region has not been addressed.
News Image
Lack of clarity about the current legal standing of abortion is creating confusion, according to Committee Chair Maria Miller. She said: "We heard evidence from a wide range of witnesses both in Northern Ireland-in Belfast, Antrim and Derry/Londonderry- and in Westminster.

"These included doctors, nurses and midwives, lawyers, Ministers and officials, organisations representing a range of views, and women who spoke to us about their own experiences.

"The lack of clarity about the current legal situation is creating confusion, fear and inequality. Our report sets out action which the Government must take to address this."

The UN body monitoring women's rights has recommended that the UK Government sets out a clear framework and timeline to address the breaches. It also urged the government to establish a measure within the next six months to allow victims of rape or incest to seek abortions without taking cases to court.

Ms Miller added: "The situation of a woman or girl who became pregnant as a result of rape or incest having to pursue a court case highlights precisely why it should not depend on an individual victim to take a case to court. This must be rectified urgently."

Another issue raised in the study was the uncertainty for doctors in NI referring patients to the UK Government funded scheme providing free abortions in England, with conflict often arising between the duties of healthcare professionals to their patients and the law. The Government Equalities Office has been urged to publish its legal advice on the matter, while the Department of Health should reissue guidance for healthcare professionals.


Related Northern Ireland News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

07 May 2019
Other News In Brief
Fourth Game Of Thrones Window Unveiled In Belfast A fourth giant stained glass window has been unveiled in Belfast to celebrate the final season of Game of Thrones. The new window, found outside the SSE Arena, is the newest of six to be unveiled across Belfast, as the final episodes of the show play out.
26 April 2019
Alliance Call For Immediate Action On Abortion
An Alliance MLA has called for immediate UK Government action on abortion. Paula Bradshaw's comments come after the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee highlighted the confusion and lack of clarity around the legality of abortion in Northern Ireland.
17 September 2001
Nationalists meet for police talks with Cowen
A Sinn Féin delegation led by Gerry Kelly has met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen in Dublin to discuss the outstanding issues on policing. The delegation which included Gerry Kelly (North Belfast), Dr Dara O’Hagan (Upper Bann), and Dublin councillors Aengus O’Snodaigh and Sean Crowe met Mr Cowen in Iveagh House on Monday 17 September.
02 March 2015
New Government Departments Unveiled
Nine new government departments have been unveiled, replacing the current 12.
18 March 2014
'Designated Days' Policy Proposed
South Belfast Alliance MLA Anna Lo has proposed an amendment to the Local Government Bill that will allow the union flag to be flown on council headquarters across Northern Ireland on designated days.