Almost a year after the British parliament voted to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland, one of the last regions in Western Europe with a ban, women there face gaps in provision due to renewed local political roadblocks.
The region’s socially conservative health minister Robin Swann has declined to order the health service to provide abortions, commission information campaigns, and also declined to introduce emergency telemedicine measures offered in the rest of the United Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Non-government groups and some medical professionals have stepped in to provide information and some services – 129 abortions took place from April 1 when the law changed to May 22, versus eight in the previous two years when terminations were allowed only if a woman’s life was at risk.
But the full range of services allowed under the law are not yet available, forcing some women to continue to travel to England or Ireland.
Politicians in the regional mandatory coalition government between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists are divided – and the British parliament insists that any outcome must include the level of provision required by United Nations Human Rights law – leaving the route to a possible resolution unclear.
“I am gutted by what has been happening since the laws changed in April,” said Ashleigh Topley, 33, an activist who challenged abortion restrictions through the courts after being denied a termination in 2014 when her daughter suffered a fatal foetal abnormality.
“I should have not been as naive to think it was a done deal.”
Opponents, including leading Northern Irish politicians, say Britain’s parliament went too far last July when it voted to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland and create one of the most liberal abortion regimes in Europe, with abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks.