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Abortion guidance for Northern Ireland published by UK government

The abortion law won’t change later this month if the NI Executive is restored by 21 October.

Doctor in a hospital.
Doctor in a hospital.
Image: Shutterstock/Blue Planet Studio

THE UK GOVERNMENT has published guidance for medical professionals surrounding abortion law in Northern Ireland. 

Abortion legislation for the North was passed in Westminster this summer and it will come into effect on 22 October if the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored by 21 October. 

The UK government would then be required to introduce a legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland by 31 March next year to replace this guidance. 

Currently, it is a criminal offence in Northern Ireland for any pregnant woman to ‘do any act with intent to procure a miscarriage’. Abortions are only permitted if the mother’s life is in danger or there is a serious risk of damage to her physical or mental health 

Under new laws, women who have an abortion in Northern Ireland can’t be issued criminal charges.

However, it will remain a criminal offence to assist or willfully act to ‘destroy the life of a child then capable of being born alive’, except when done to preserve the life of the mother in good faith.

This means that abortions where the foetus could be “born alive” are still unlawful.

A section in the current Criminal Justice Act (NI) 1945 states that a 28-week-old foetus is presumed to be capable of being born alive. Medical advances since this was made mean that a foetus can often survive earlier in gestation. 

Women must be made aware of the options and choices available to them if abortion law changes on 22 October. 12 abortions were performed in hospitals in Northern Ireland in 2017 and 2018 under the existing abortion law. 

If a medical professional has a ‘conscientious objection’ to the procedure, they are required to tell the patient about their rights to see another doctor and ensure they have enough information to exercise that right. 

If these changes come into effect later this month, all travel and any needed accommodation will be funded for women, getting rid of the current means-tested criteria.  

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