2018: Abortion access in Northern Ireland
Current status of abortion in Northern Ireland:
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom (UK) which also includes England, Wales and Scotland. The UK has a very liberal pro-choice abortion law, the 1967 Abortion Act. However it does not currently apply in Northern Ireland.
The island of Ireland is divided between:
- The Republic of Ireland (ROI) in the southern and central part of the Island. It has been an independent state since separation from the United Kingdom in 1921, and
- Northern Ireland (N.I.), a constituent country that is part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Scotland and Wales.
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland share an open border that facilitates travel between the two jurisdictions.
On MAY-27, the results of a referendum in the Republic of Ireland were announced. About two thirds of its adults had voted whether to reword an article in the country's Constitution that had- criminalized almost all abortions. They voted by a ratio of about 2:1 to permit the Government to change the article's text so that abortions would become freely available up until the 12th week of pregnancy, and restricted afterwards.
With the passage of this referendum, attention shifted to Northern Ireland which still bans almost all abortions.
As a stop-gap measure, abortion clinics are expected to be opened in the Republic of Ireland close to the Northern Irish border so that women from the North will be able to travel to obtain an abortion -- perhaps in Monaghan, Dundalk, and/or Sligo. Alternately, they will still be able to travel to England for an abortion, although that requires a boat or airplane ride.
Abortions are currently only allowed in Northern Ireland when a continued pregnancy would threaten the woman's life, or if there is a risk of permanent damage to her mental or physical health. During 2017, there were only 16 legal abortions provided in the country. However, an estimated 1,000 women traveled to another country for an abortion -- most often to England. Until recently, they had to pay for both their traveling expenses and the cost of the abortion.
In late 2017-JUN, the N.I. Labour party forced the UK government to address the financial problem faced by women in Northern Ireland. Justine Greening, the UK Equalities Minister, decided that the Government Equalities Office will pay the future medical costs for any women from Northern Ireland who come to England in order to have an abortion.
"At present, women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment. ... from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen." 1
Mara Clarke is the director of the Abortion Support Network, which offers financial assistance to women in need of abortions. She said:
"This is an incredible step forward. Anyone traveling for an abortion will save a minimum of £330, thanks to today’s announcement. However, they will still have to pay for flights and accommodation, childcare, and time off work."
By late 2018-MAY, £330 British Pounds is equal to about U.S. $440.
“And there will always be women who cannot travel. Women who don’t have someone who can watch existing children, or women made pregnant by controlling or violent partners. And no one should have to travel. We rejoice today – but the work will still be here tomorrow." 1
During 2018-MAY, Inspired by changes in the South, some Northern Irish pro-choice individuals have asked, as a minimum, a relaxation of laws so girls and women can access an abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and pregnancy caused by rape or incest.
2018-JUN-05: Discussion in the UK Parliament about abortion laws in Northern Ireland:
The political nature of the UK is unique in the world. According to Wikipedia:
"The United Kingdom (UK) comprises four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Within the United Kingdom, a unitary sovereign state, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have gained a degree of autonomy through the process of devolution." 2
Devolution involves the UK Parliament transferring specific legislative powers to the assemblies in the other countries.
The Alliance for Choice and the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign issued a joint statement. They commented on a discussion in the UK Parliament about the laws concerning abortion access in Northern Ireland. They thanked MP (Member of Parliament) Stella Creasy (Labour Party) for her promotion of abortion access there and are pleased at the level of support shown among MPs from various parties. 3
As the laws now stand, a woman who obtains an illegal abortion in Norther Ireland can receive a sentence of life imprisonment.
In opposition are pro-life promoters in Northern Ireland who suggest that their country should make its own laws concerning abortion access. Pro-life campaigner Bernadette Smyth referred to the debate about abortion in Northern Ireland in the UK Parliament as:
"Outrageous. ... Abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and the protection of unborn life is a fundamental concern for us all. It underlines all human dignity. ... We have a legal and democratic right to make our own laws, [on topics] such as abortion. So to listen to a debate [in the UK Parliament] about women in Northern Ireland is sickening and it was disgusting."
Jessica Phillips is the MP for Birmingham Yardley in England. She feels that the UK Parliament should be free to discuss abortion access in Northern Ireland. She said:
"We're not doing this as Westminster overlords. We are doing it because hundreds and hundreds of women from Northern Ireland have requested that we fight for their rights. ..."
"I don't think it is a political issue. I think it's a no-brainer. I think it's really important as well, not just to talk about the really difficult cases, but also just to talk about ordinary women, just like me, who have made these decisions in their lives, because that is the vast majority."
She also said:
"It's not just about the law in Northern Ireland. It's about repealing the fact that abortion still exists in criminal law, rather than scientific health-related policy -- and that's the same for women across the entirety of the UK.
To repeal that would mean that Northern Ireland, as a devolved nation, would have to make their own health guidance on that matter."
She said that at that point, she would campaign to have the law changed there.
Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland said:
"There is now an unstoppable momentum for change for Northern Ireland and we are positive that that will come. ... Women who have had to travel for abortions from here to the rest of the UK are no longer willing to be silenced and have their healthcare needs not met here."
In all likelihood, women in Northern Ireland will not have to go to England for abortions in the future. New aborton facilities will probably be set up in Ireland near the Northern Irish border.
Stella Creasy, a Labour MP, has tabled an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill currently before the UK’s House of Commons. She said:
"The forthcoming domestic violence bill is due to consider the Victorian Offences Against the Person Act, which criminalises women in this way. Repealing it would lay the foundation for a modern medical approach to abortion across the UK, including in Northern Ireland, which could put women’s safety at the heart of future legislation."
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service is one of the UK's biggest abortion providers. They sent the following communiqué to all Britain’s MPs:
"I would like to stress that I am asking that you back moves to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, as supported by medical experts and human rights bodies, NOT for a referendum nor an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act. Both these proposed solutions have been explicitly REJECTED by Northern Ireland civil society groups and medical organisations." 4
This essay will be extended as further developments occur.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Jessica Elgot & Henry McDonald, "Northern Irish women win access to free abortions as May averts rebellion," The Guardian, 2017-JUN-29, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
- Wikipedia (looking for it)
- The Alliance for Choice and the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign issued a joint statement," London Irish Alliance for Choice, 2018-JUN-06, at: https://londonirisharc.com/ (As of 2018-JUN-08, this statement appears to have a typo: it is dated 2017 instead of 2018. We have informed the Alliance.)
- K.V. Turley, "Abortionists Target Northern Ireland," Crisis Magazine, 2018-JUN-25, at: https://www.crisismagazine.com/
Original posting: 2018-MAY-29
Latest update: 2018-JUN-08
Author: B.A. Robinson