Northern Ireland: Amnesty calls on Northern Irish Executive to support abortion law reform

Amnesty International has welcomed plans announced today by Northern Ireland's Department of Justice to reform abortion law in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and has called for support for the proposals from the whole Northern Ireland Executive.

Commenting following a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Justice Committee, at which the Department of Justice confirmed it will seek Executive approval for a Bill to permit terminations in grounds of fatal foetal abnormality, Grainne Teggart, Amnesty's International's Northern Ireland Campaigner, said:

“Today is an important step towards much needed reform of our draconian abortion laws, which are among the harshest in Europe.  We call on the Northern Ireland Executive to seize this opportunity to enable women whose pregnancies have a fatal foetal abnormality to access abortion services locally. 

“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 these women experience. Northern Ireland’s politicians have shirked their responsibilities to women’s health for too long. Change is long overdue.”

However, responding to news that the Department of Justice has no immediate plans to reform abortion laws in cases of sexual crime, Grainne Teggart said:

“Forcing a woman to continue with a pregnancy which has been forced upon her through sexual violence is inhumane. Women, finding themselves in the most distressing of circumstances, deserve the freedom to make deeply personal choices about their pregnancies.  The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly must legislate for change. To fail to do so would be a further violation of women’s rights.”

Public opinion favours decriminalisation

Research, commissioned by Amnesty International, carried out in September 2014 by market research company Millward Brown Ulster, shows that: 

  • 69% of people think the law in Northern Ireland should make access to abortion available where the pregnancy is the result of rape;
  • 68% of people think the law in Northern Ireland should make access to abortion available where the pregnancy is the result of abortion;
  • 60% of people think the law in Northern Ireland should make access to abortion available where the foetus has a fatal abnormality.

Main research findings:

Overall, between 6 and 7 in 10 of the people support reform to abortion law under certain circumstances (rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality).

Support is consistently high (approximately 3:1, or higher) across all social groups – gender, age, social class, political affiliation, religious affiliation. 

Some breakdown by political affiliation:

Fatal foetal abnormality: 60% think abortion should be made available. 19% think it should not be available. 18% don’t know.

  • 66% of unionists supported a change in the law. 15% opposed. 15% don’t know.
  • 52% of nationalists/republicans supported a change in the law. 22% opposed. 24% don’t know.
  • 71% of ‘other’ voters supported a change in the law. 13% opposed. 13% don’t know.

Pregnancy as result of rape: 69% think abortion should be made available. 16% think it should not be available. 13% don’t know.

  • 71% of unionists supported a change in the law. 16% opposed. 10% don’t know.
  • 60% of nationalists/republicans supported a change in the law. 20% opposed. 18% don’t know.
  • 80% of ‘other’ voters supported a change in the law. 9% opposed. 8% don’t know.

Pregnancy as result of incest: 68% think abortion should be made available. 16% think it should not be available. 13% don’t know.

  • 68% of unionists supported a change in the law. 17% opposed. 11% don’t know.
  • 62% of nationalists/republicans supported a change in the law. 23% opposed. 14% don’t know.
  • 77% of ‘other’ voters supported a change in the law. 9% opposed. 13% don’t know.

Methodology: The survey was conducted face-to-face amongst a representative sample of the Northern Ireland population. 1013 people were polled during September 2014.

The sample is quota controlled to represent the Northern Ireland population in terms of sex, age and social class.  60 sampling points are drawn using a stratified random sampling method to ensure that the sample is representative in terms of region. For this survey the margin of error would be +/- 3% based on the total sample of 1000.

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Full poll results conducted by Milward Brown