Northern Ireland women will be able to access abortion services in the Republic of Ireland

By agency reporter
August 11, 2018

Republic of Ireland Health Minister, Simon Harris, has confirmed that women resident in Northern Ireland will be able to access abortion services in the Republic of Ireland, after legislation to remove the ban on abortion is passed in the autumn. Humanists UK, which has campaigned for free, safe, and legal abortion services in Northern Ireland, has welcomed this announcement which will lessen some of the practical and financial barriers faced by Northern Ireland women seeking access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Speaking at an event in Belfast, Simon Harris stated, "I intend to ensure women from Northern Ireland can access such services in the Republic, just like they can access other health services here" and reaffirmed his belief that the current restrictions imposed in Northern Ireland should be urgently reviewed.

Following the referendum on repealing the eighth amendment of the Constitution of Ireland in May 2018, when two-thirds of voters favoured the liberalisation of the Republic’s abortion laws, the Irish Government committed to introducing legislation to allow abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy by 1 January 2019.

The law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive in Europe and the criminal sanctions imposed are amongst the harshest in the world, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. Current restrictions force women to either travel to the UK to receive treatment, risk prosecution for procuring illegal online abortion pills, or continue their pregnancies against their wishes and in violation of their rights. There is no exception made for pregnancies that arise as a result of sexual crime or where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer, Rachel Taggart-Ryan, said: "Allowing women resident in Northern Ireland to access abortion services in the Republic of Ireland is a positive step. However, it is not a solution to the lack of women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland. Many women will not be able make this journey and will continue to face criminal sanctions and interference by police when trying to access healthcare services in their own jurisdiction. It is time for Westminster to legislate to allow free, safe, and legal access to abortion services in Northern Ireland, giving women there the same rights as women in both Britain and the Republic of Ireland."

Humanists UK intervened in a case before the Supreme Court, brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) against the Northern Ireland Government, which focused on whether abortion should be legal in the cases of women with pregnancies where the foetus cannot survive birth, (women whose pregnancies arise from rape or incest, and women with serious malformation of the foetus. A judgement on this case is pending.

* Humanists UK https://humanism.org.uk/

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