Abortion in Northern Ireland

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  • 29 december 2019
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Abortion in Northern Ireland


Abortion is one of the most sensitive and personal issues discussed and the end of the emotive debate won’t be over soon. For 52 years, the law on terminations has been much more restrictive in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK, but that’s about to come to an end.

Abortion laws in UK countries

In England, Scotland and Whales, abortion can take place in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The abortion has got to be approved by two doctors. The two doctors must agree having the baby would pose a greater risk of having physical or mental health issues than termination. Abortions in England, Scotland and Wales were illegal before the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act which says that abortion was lawful if the continuing of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury of the pregnant woman. Initially, abortion was allowed to take place up to 28 weeks after the woman got pregnant. This was reduced to 24 weeks in 1990. Abortions after 24 weeks are only allowed if the woman’s life is in danger, or when there is a severe fetal abnormality or when the pregnant woman is at risk of grave physical or mental injury.

Abortions in Northern Ireland are only allowed if the woman’s life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to the woman’s health. An 1861 law made it a criminal offence to procure a miscarriage, so abortion was and is still illegal. Even rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormality are not grounds for a legal abortion. In 1945, an exception was added to say abortion could be permitted if it would preserve the pregnant woman’s life.


In 2018, there were just over 205,000 legal abortions in England and Whales, these numbers include the ones from the non-residents. A total of 4678 abortions for non-residents were carried out, this was a slight increase on last year. In 2018, 1053 women travelled from Northern Ireland to undergo the abortion procedure in England and Wales. There were only 32 medical abortions in Northern Ireland in 2018.

Abortion law changing

Northern Ireland’s abortion law was challenged by Sarah Ewart after she was denied a termination in spite of doctors saying her baby won’t survive outside the womb. Mrs Ewart had to travel to London to have her abortion, which she described as an awful experience. She said she should have been at home with her family and friends to support her. She wants the law to change because she doesn’t want any woman to go through what she had to go through.

Abortion is due to be decriminalised in Northern Ireland on the 21st of October. This is because the MPs in London voted that abortion laws are required to be changed unless Northern Ireland’s government is restored before the 21st of October. The High Court stated that Northern Ireland’s abortion law breaches the United Kingdom’s human rights. In addition to the changing of the law about abortion, same-sex marriage will also be legalised. So, the law will be changed on the 21st of October. However, if the law is changed, the regulations won’t be in place until March 2020.

People in Northern Ireland

Amnesty International conducted a poll which resulted in two-thirds of people in Northern Ireland felt it was time to change the abortion laws. The poll also said that 65% of the people in Northern Ireland thought that abortion should not be a crime. A study suggested that the public in Northern Ireland has changed its views on abortion over the years. In 1998, 16% of the people in Northern Ireland thought that abortion should be allowed when the fetus had a fatal abnormality, but in 2016, that figure was about 80%. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted against changing the law on abortion in 2016, however, the main political party now moves to allow more access to abortion.

Healthcare workers

Hundreds of healthcare workers have written to Northern Ireland’s secretary because they don’t agree with the liberalisation of the abortion laws. They say that their consciences, which is the moral sense for right and wrong, will not allow them to keep silent on this issue. They aren’t willing to perform or assist abortions if the law comes into effect. The healthcare workers say they want to protect the pregnant mothers and their unborn children. They say that abortion is the violent taking of a human life. Personally, I don’t think they are 100% right, because if the unborn baby’s life is at risk or its mother may encounter physical or mental issues, having the baby wouldn’t be the best option.


I will now conclude the most important things I’ve said in my presentation.

In England, Scotland and Whales, abortion is allowed in the first 24 weeks of the pregnancy. Abortion after 24 weeks is allowed only if the mother’s life is at risk, or when the child has a severe fetal abnormality or if the pregnant woman is at risk of having mental health issues. In Northern Ireland, abortion is only allowed if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk.

Abortion is due to be decriminalised on the 21st of October, this would allow women who live in Northern Ireland to have their abortions at home, so they will have support from their family and friends.

Two-thirds of people in Northern Ireland feel it’s time to change the abortion laws.

Hundreds of healthcare workers say they aren’t willing to perform or assist abortions. They say that abortion is the violent taking of a human life, but the child will most certainly suffer when it’s born with a severe disability.


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