Consultation to Change Northern Ireland’s Abortion Laws
Abortions have been the subject of many a discussion, with arguments against the termination of any pregnancy, and others for the right to have a choice. In most of the UK abortions have been legal on a number of grounds since the Abortion Act 1967, but Northern Ireland have kept strict laws, making abortions completely illegal apart from some vastly extenuating circumstances.
David Ford, Northern Ireland’s justice minister, said he is going to consult on having the abortion laws extended, after hearing the stories of two women earlier this year. Both women found out their babies had a condition called anencephaly, which is a brain deformity that affects development, leading to small or missing hemispheres of the brain, and meaning the babies would not be able to survive after being born.
Because of the strict laws in Northern Ireland that mean that a pregnancy can only be aborted if there is a big risk to the woman’s health or life, the only option for these women and many others in Northern Ireland is to travel to England, or another part of the UK, for a termination, pouring more stress into an already highly stressful situation.
Mr Ford explained that a consultation for possible changes needs to be carried out: “Long before I became minister for justice… I have said that there are clearly some very difficult cases in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Ford said he hoped to have completed the consultation about change in the legislature and all the relevant documents by Easter 2014, after which there will be the time taken to assess the results and come to a decision. He said that most likely only a small number of cases where abortion would be an option, but other grounds, such as pregnancy by rape or incest, are also expected to be covered: “It’s clearly a slightly wider area than just the issue of fatal foetal abnormality.”
The justice minister said that after discussing the matter with a number of people, including the four major church representatives, he believes that everyone understands the matter needs to be considered seriously, even those who do not want the legislature extended.
He explained that a “very mature discussion” is going to be required, especially considering the “really difficult circumstances”. “It’s going to require people to engage with the issues,” he said, “and to recognise that there are issues that we sometimes have been unwilling to confront in Northern Ireland, until now.
“But they have to be confronted.”
If the abortion laws can be extended there will be far fewer than the 1,000 plus women who travel to England each year, and those women whose babies were not meant for this world will not have to wait until they have come to know their child for 9 months before having to say goodbye.