Northern Ireland news

New abortion laws allow unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks

Abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland last October following legislation passed by Westminster.
Claire Simpson and Michael McHugh

The DUP has hit out at the introduction of new abortion laws, claiming Northern Ireland now has the most extreme laws on terminations in Europe.

Huge changes to the north's laws came into effect today.

Abortions can now be carried out in all circumstances up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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Terminations up to 24 weeks are legal if there is a risk to the mother's physical or mental health. 

There is also no term limit in cases of serious or fatal foetal abnormalities.

MPs at Westminister passed the law on terminations last year in the absence of a powersharing Assembly at Stormont.

The change came about after a long campaign and repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the Republic.

DUP MLA Paul Givan yesterday told the assembly he was strongly opposed to the law change.

"Here in Northern Ireland they have the most extreme, radical, abortion laws anywhere in Europe," he said.

"It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen."

Anti-abortion campaigners NI Voiceless held a silent protest at Stormont in September. File picture by Matt Bohill

TUV leader Jim Allister, who raised the issue at Stormont, said he was concerned by "uncontrolled abortion up to 12 weeks.

He said: "From today what should be the safest place for an unborn, namely its mother's womb, can become on a whim one of the most dangerous places because we are going now to have utterly unfettered, uncontrolled abortion up to 12 weeks."

However, Green Party leader Clare Bailey said the law change should be welcomed.

"Access to abortion is a positive move," she said.

She claimed many barriers still existed to terminations after 12 weeks.

Amnesty International said while it welcomes the new laws, women in the north should be allowed to take abortion pills at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Women in England are allowed to take both abortion pills at home but the measure has not been introduced to the north.

One caller, known as Anna, told BBC News this morning she would have to get an eight-hour ferry from Belfast to Liverpool on Friday to have an abortion due to the rules around abortion pills.

She has to have a surgical abortion because having a medical abortion requires staying overnight and there are no hotels open during the pandemic.

She will also have to travel on her own, due to rules about social distancing during the coronavirus lockdown.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said she was pleased that women facing crisis pregnancies will be able to access abortions.

“However, during the Covid-19 pandemic we urgently need to see provision made to allow women to take both abortion pills at home," she said. 

"Travelling is not a safe or viable option, and as services are yet to be commissioned in Northern Ireland women here are left without access to the healthcare.

“Some women have never had the option to travel - those who experience domestic abuse and those with an insecure immigration status are often blocked from accessing abortion services. Allowing women to self-manage at home is a crucial way of ensuring that all have access to this vital healthcare.

“England has now introduced measures to allow women to take both abortion pills at home. It makes no sense that women in Northern Ireland are being denied this option – it’s unfair, dangerous and is putting them at risk.

"We urge the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to enable women to safely manage abortions at home. We will be working around the clock until these provisions are secured.”

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