What if you want an abortion in Northern Ireland?

2 June 2018

By Lauren E. White

The Republic of Ireland voted last week to repeal the 8th amendment in a landmark vote, meaning the country has decided that abortion should be legal in the country. Until that point, it was only possible to get an abortion in the Republic if the woman’s life was at risk due to physical illness or suicide, and three medical professionals would have to agree on the issue. The law in Northern Ireland is very similar and has not changed. So, what if you want an abortion in Northern Ireland?

The law currently

Abortion in Northern Ireland is classed as unlawful and illegal. If you are a victim of rape, incest or the foetus has any abnormalities, you are not permitted to have an abortion.

The only exceptions for an abortion in Northern Ireland are to preserve the life of the woman, a “real and serious” risk to her mental health (including the risk of suicide and long-term damage) and if the pregnancy is under nine weeks and four days since the woman’s last menstruation. It is important to note that there are still very few cases in which abortion is permitted in Northern Ireland as the law only applies to women whose lives are in immediate, fatal danger.

This has resulted in 553 women travelling to England from Northern Ireland for an abortion since June 2017.

What do women who want an abortion in Northern Ireland do?

Until last year when Labour MP Stella Creasy began a successful campaign to abolish NHS abortion fees for women travelling to England, women from Northern Ireland would travel to England and pay medical fees for their abortions. Sometimes these fees would be up £1,400, with the cost of travel and overnight stay not included.

There has been a 14% rise in the number of women travelling to England from Northern Ireland for an abortion since the fees were lifted. However, it is thought that there has also been a rise in the number of women purchasing abortion pills online during this time. Women who purchase the pills risk a prison sentence and, of course, any health issues and side effects that are caused by the pills.

Image result for abortion northern ireland

What happens if you take abortion pills in Northern Ireland?

Any woman who has an abortion in Northern Ireland outside of the legal circumstances faces up to 14 years in prison, and any material that is deemed to “encourage or promote” abortion is banned. The latter part of the law is not specifically defined, and so some information helping women understand their choices in Northern Ireland is actually banned too.

Healthcare workers who are found to have advised women to seek an abortion risk a conviction and a 4,000 Euros fine.

Can the UK Prime Minister change the law?

Abortion in Northern Ireland has been called a ‘devolved issue’, meaning that the UK Prime Minister could cause a lot of controversy by legalising it. However, there is currently a debate around whether the Prime Minister should intervene with the Northern Ireland abortion laws as, legally, the PM can change them.

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