Abortion law reform in Northern Ireland 'unfinished business'

By agency reporter
February 21, 2017

Amnesty International has reminded all political parties in Northern Ireland  that abortion reform is unfinished business and must be an urgent priority after the Assembly election, and in any political talks that follow.

Grainne Teggart, Campaign Manager, said: "After the Assembly election, all political parties must play their part in delivering abortion reform; there can be no hiding from this issue.

"Women's rights are non-negotiable, Northern Ireland's abortion law has been found by the courts and the UN to breach women's rights. With every passing day, women are being failed by the lack of progress on this issue. Our politicians need to stand with women and deliver much needed and long overdue change".

In October 2016, Amnesty published a poll showing that nearly three-quarters of people in Northern Ireland want to see abortion law reform. The results showed overwhelming support from all religious backgrounds and political affiliations for a major overhaul of the region's restrictive abortion laws. Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK where abortion is banned in almost all cases.

The poll also showed an increase in support for access to abortion since a similar survey commissioned by Amnesty two years ago. In 2014, 69 per cent of people in Northern Ireland supported access to abortion in cases of rape, a figure which has now increased to 72 per cent. Meanwhile, 60 per cent of respondents supported access to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. This has now grown to 67 per cent.

The high levels of support for reform of Northern Ireland's abortion laws is largely consistent across all age ranges, between women and men, across regions of Northern Ireland, and whether people are from a Catholic or Protestant community background. There was also a high level of support for abortion law reform among voters for all Northern Ireland's main political parties, including for two political parties which have traditionally been opposed to change.

  • 72 per cent think abortion should be available if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest; only 15 per cent are opposed
  • 67 per cent  think abortion should be available in cases of fatal foetal abnormality; with 17 per cent opposed
  • 58 per cent think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for women who have abortions in Northern Ireland; 22 per cent are opposed to this change
  • 59 per cent think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for doctors and medical staff who assist women to have abortions in Northern Ireland; 21 per cent are opposed to this change
  • 75 per cent think the fact that women from Northern Ireland who are seeking a lawful abortion must travel to England adds to their distress; 11 per cent disagreed.
  • 71 per cent agreed that having to travel to England for a lawful abortion has a disproportionately negative impact on women with low income; 11 per cent disagreed.

The polling was carried out in the week commencing 15 September 2016 by Millward Brown Ulster, using face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 16+, in multiple urban and rural locations across Northern Ireland.

* Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

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