UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND: Northern Ireland: Draconian Abortion Law Harshest in Europe

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5 Mar 2015
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Women's Rights

The laws in Northern Ireland relating to abortion are draconian and in urgent need of reform, Amnesty International said today (Thursday 26), as it published a new report.

Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for abortion anywhere in Europe – life imprisonment both for the woman undergoing an unlawful abortion and for anyone assisting her. That sentence even applies in cases where the pregnancy is as a result of rape or incest, or in cases of fatal foetal impairment

Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws are in significant breach of the UK’s international human rights obligations, the report warns.

Amnesty’s research also found that, due to restrictive laws, harsh criminal penalties and a lack of guidance from the Department of Health, medical professionals are fearful to even provide lawful abortions, leading to a “postcode lottery” for women trying to access abortion advice and services across Northern Ireland. This has resulted in women in certain health trust areas, such as western and rural areas, being unable to access termination of pregnancy services.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaigner, said:

“That grim distinction should be a wake-up call to politicians.

“Hundreds of women are forced to leave Northern Ireland every year just to access health care to which they should be entitled. That only adds to the trauma the women experience.

“Northern Ireland’s politicians have shirked their responsibilities to women’s health for too long. The Department of Health needs to fulfill its duties to women and girls in Northern Ireland by publishing proper guidance for its frontline staff, while the Assembly must act without further delay to reform abortion law.”

Donagh Stenson, British Pregnancy Advisory Service said, “59614 women since 1970 from NI have had no other choice but to travel to England to seek abortion care. No politician in a civilised country should force a woman to leave her family and loved ones to make a journey to another jurisdiction for abortion treatment. Taking the decision to end a pregnancy is journey enough for any woman.”

26 February 2015
Amnesty International PRESS RELEASE

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