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Northern Ireland: Women and health workers face 10 years in jail if abortion law change is successful

Women and medical professionals in Northern Ireland could face up to ten years in prison for having or carrying out an abortion if a proposed amendment to legislation is passed, Amnesty International warned today.  The warning comes ahead of Amnesty giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly Justice Committee.

The amendment, proposed by Jim Wells MLA, who recently became Health Minister for Northern Ireland, would effectively outlaw abortion by providers such as Marie Stopes International - and introduce a possible penalty of ten years imprisonment and a fine to anyone obtaining or assisting in an such abortion.

The current law in Northern Ireland restricts access to abortion to where a long term risk to the woman’s physical or mental health exists. However, an ongoing failure of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) in Northern Ireland to publish guidance clarifying the law for medical practitioners has reinforced a climate of fear around providing even abortions which are lawful.  

Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigner Grainne Teggart, who will be giving evidence on the proposed amendment today, said:

“We are deeply concerned with the proposal to introduce further barriers to women accessing abortion in Northern Ireland, in an already highly restrictive environment where abortion is governed by badly out-dated legislation.

“This proposed amendment to the law is deeply worrying both for women and for health workers in Northern Ireland.

“It is designed to further curtail already appallingly restrictive laws on abortion in Northern Ireland. Criminal penalties impede women’s access to lawful abortion and post-abortion care.  Rather than support women facing a difficult time in their lives, this proposal threatens them and their health carers with ten years in jail. That is no way to run a health service in the twenty-first century and flies in the face of international human rights standards, where access to safe abortion is recognised as a human right.”

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