Decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by accepting responsibility for its legislation

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People living in Northern Ireland are still unable to legally have an abortion (unless exceptional circumstances apply). Unlike the rest of the UK, they only have two choices: buy abortion pills online or travel abroad to have the procedure. Neither are good enough.

No person wanting to have an abortion should be expected to travel far from their home and loved ones, paying money to do so. No person wanting to have an abortion should have to risk their lives buying tablets on the internet. No person should face a life sentence for making a decision about their own body. 

Westminster has so far done little to help. Why? Because abortion is a devolved issue. That means that it is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly (also known as Stormont). But, despite rounds of talks, Stormont has not been functional since January 2017. Still, Westminster says there is nothing it can do.

This is not true. The UN has declared Northern Ireland's abortion legislation to be a "grave and systematic" violation of human rights. Westminster has a responsibility to uphold human rights laws. It has the power to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act which criminalises abortions conducted outside the law. It has the power to ensure that people in Northern Ireland enjoy the same freedom as every other person living in the rest of the UK, including the right to have a lawful abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy.

We are calling for Westminster to accept the responsibility of Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation by the end of 2019 and safeguard the people living there via one or both of the following ways:

  • Modernising the Offences Against the Person Act.
  • Using applicable sections of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to ensure that international rights obligations are met while still upholding devolution.

Stormont has had long enough to rectify this breach in human rights. Westminster cannot delay any longer.

The UK likes to call itself a leader in equality. It's time for the government to prove it.