Government ushers in abortion up to point of birth in Northern Ireland – despite overwhelming consultation opposition

NHS pregnancy service image depicting a foetus at 21-to-24 weeks' gestationNHS pregnancy service image depicting a foetus at 21-to-24 weeks' gestation
NHS pregnancy service image depicting a foetus at 21-to-24 weeks' gestation
Anti-abortion advocates have accused the government of ignoring the results of its own consultation into terminations in Northern Ireland, as it unveiled plans to usher in abortion — in some cases until the point of birth.

At about 4pm today, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Twitter account announced the details of the new regime governing terminations in the Province, which is due to take effect from March 31.

The NIO said 79% of consultation respondents to the plans had expressed “general opposition to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond that which is currently permitted”.

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DUP First Minister Arlene Foster described it as a “very sad day for Northern Ireland”, while Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill “welcomed progress”.

Anti-abortion group Both Lives Matter said: “It is barely believable that given the situation we are in, Westminster has today issued their new and extreme regulations on abortion services in Northern Ireland. This is despite 79% of respondents opposing their introduction.”

The TUV meanwhile said the government had simply “disregarded” the majority of respondents.

Inspite of the gravity of the news today, no announcement about the new abortion regime was received by the News Letter’s newsdesk.

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The new abortion rules essentially entail abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks (with the government saying this would accommodate women who had fallen pregnant as a result of rape);

Abortion up to 24 weeks “in cases where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the regnant woman or girl, greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy”;

And abortions with no time limit “to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl”, in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, and in cases of “severe fetal impairment”.

The wording the NIO document uses is “without any gestational time limit”, leaving the legal window open technically until birth (although the overwhelming bulk of abortions take place before the third trimester).

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When it comes to defining “severe fetal impairment”, the NIO said it includes “a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child’s life”.

The reason that the changes are happening is because the government last year pledged that unless Stormont had been resurrected by October 21 2019, then it would take over responsibility for liberalising the Province’s abortion laws by April 2020.

Since a new Executive was not formed until January this year, the government said its pledge to introduce the reforms still stands, despite Stormont having been resusitated.

The government said it was important to do this because a UN committee called the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had said witholding abortions was an act of “violence against women” and may amount to “torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.