Abortion: Pro-choice activists drawing up legal action over ‘stalled access to care’ in Northern Ireland

Pro-choice campaigners are planning to launch a legal action over what they believe is a failure to implement Northern Ireland’s new law on abortion.

Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 7:00 am
Alliance for Choice protestors pictured at Stormont last year

Naomi Connor, a co-convenor of the pressure group Alliance for Choice, said barristers are being consulted about staging a potential court challenge, because she says none of Northern Ireland’s five health trusts are offering the abortion services which the law now obliges them to do.

The whole saga dates back to last summer, when MPs passed a law saying that if Stormont was not resuscitated by October 21, then new laws on abortion and gay marriage – drawn up in London – would be enforced in the Province.

The law change on gay marriage happened on January, and the new rules governing abortion took effect from March 31.

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They allow abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks; abortion on grounds of the wellbeing of the mother until 24 weeks; and abortion until birth for disabilities.

Ms Connor however, said the law is not being acted on.

She believes that the health minister Robin Swann had attempted to get cross-party backing in the Executive for how to implement the law Monday – but that the DUP “blocked” it.

She told the News Letter the situation is particularly urgent because Covid-19 has made travel to abortion providers in Great Britain extremely difficult (although Belfast George Best City Airport and City of Derry Airport are both running a much-reduced schedule of flights to London, and ferry sailings continue at time of writing).

She said that in law abortion is classed as “essential healthcare” – but that this message is being “subverted” for ideological reasons in Northern Ireland.

She said: “We’ve been in touch with a number of people legally because every single day that goes by is a denial of our human rights.

“We’re speaking to a number of barristers at the moment to look at legal challenges to this on a number of grounds.”

She said that these are being pursued “as soon as we possibly can”. They are trying to determine whether the Department for Health or Executive as a whole would be the respondents in a legal case.

The account of the Executive meeting on Monday was put to the DUP, but it did not respond.

The assertion that no abortions are happening in the NI NHS was put to the Department of Health, along with the question: if not, why not?

Its response did not appear to address this directly but said: “The minister is currently considering this urgently. Given the significance and sensitivity of the issue, it will be a decision for the Executive.”

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