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Northern Ireland: new First Minister must change ‘unlawful’ abortion law

Northern Ireland’s new First Minister must reform the region’s abortion law, which last month was found to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights by the High Court in Belfast.

That’s the call from Amnesty International just days before Arlene Foster is due to take over from Peter Robinson as Northern Ireland’s First Minister.

Amnesty’s appeal comes in response to comments published today in a newspaper interview, where Mrs Foster said she opposed bringing Northern Ireland abortion law into line with the rest of the UK by extending the 1967 Abortion Act, which applies in England, Scotland and Wales, but would “consider carefully Mr Justice Horner’s judgment”. Last month the judge found Northern Ireland’s current law to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights because it does not allow abortion for women who become pregnant through rape or incest or as a result of a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis.

Northern Ireland’s abortion law, governed by the 1861 Offences against the Person Act, is among the most restrictive in Europe. It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who undergoes or performs an unlawful abortion could be jailed for life.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:

“The incoming First Minister has both an opportunity and a responsibility to offer leadership on this issue. She can help women and girls in Northern Ireland by bringing our abortion laws out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty-first.

“The High Court decision makes it very clear what is now expected of Northern Ireland’s politicians: to change the law to allow for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.

“Public opinion in Northern Ireland is overwhelmingly in favour of law reform to allow women to access abortion in these circumstances. Polling carried out in 2014 showed that seven in ten people here support changes to the law in these cases.

“The High Court’s landmark ruling was a damning indictment of the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare. That must end. It is now up to the new First Minister to lead that change.”

More: “New poll finds 7 in 10 Northern Ireland people back abortion law reform” (Oct 2014) - summary and full results


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