Abortion: Public Consulted On New Laws

A public consultation on a new legal framework for abortion services in Northern Ireland has launched.

It follows the decriminalisation of abortion last month after MPs passed a law in Parliament. Ministers are bound to introduce a system governing terminations by 31 March 2020, with the consultation closing on 16 December.

The document, released by the Northern Ireland Office, sets out the legislative changes introduced by default last month when no local Executive was restored, and also includes proposals the government is exploring for a future framework.

Opinions are encouraged from "anyone in Northern Ireland with an interest or view, particularly those directly impacted by the current law and any proposed changes and health professionals" to help shape legislation going forward.

Among the comprehensive questions in the document, the Government asks whether an appropriate approach would be one that allows for termination of pregnancy up to 12 or 14 weeks gestation, which would cover the circumstances where the pregnancy is the result of sexual crime, or where it would have a detrimental effect on the woman or girl's physical or mental health or wellbeing, or that of her family.

The issue of abortion and particular time limits is a highly sensitive and decisive one in Northern Ireland, and the document stated that the Government has not traditionally taken a view on how these should be set.

The consultation also asks questions like: "Should abortion without time limit be available for fetal abnormality where there is a substantial risk that:

"The fetus would die in utero (in the womb) or shortly after birth
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"The fetus if born would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child's life."

Respondents are giving the option of a 'yes' or 'no' answer and also encouraged to suggest alternative approaches.

Issues such as who can perform terminations, conscientious objections, where procedures can take place and certificates of opinion and notification requirements are also raised for interested parties to submit their views.

The government is also seeking opinions on whether a "new power" may be required to ensure that new services can be accessed in a way that protects women from harassment from anti-abortion protestors.

"Any new power would be used in a way which complies with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association," the document added.

Forwarding the document, Secretary of State Julian Smith said he is "acutely aware" that the provision of abortion services are devolved to Northern Ireland, including health and social services.

He added: "I am also deeply sympathetic to the fact that this is a highly sensitive and complex matter, with differing and strongly held views across society. I have made the case to party leaders in Northern Ireland that the best way of dealing with this issue would be to form an Executive that could take forward these commitments in the best interests in Northern Ireland - unfortunately this has not been possible to achieve."

Interested parties can view the full consultation and respond online by clicking here.


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