Abortion law in Northern Ireland Contents


Why an inquiry?

1.Since January 2017, when the Northern Ireland Assembly ceased functioning, there has been an accumulation of significant developments relating to abortion in Northern Ireland. These include:

2.The absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland means that there is no devolved government to respond to these significant developments; there are no scrutiny bodies to make sure that policies are working well; the use of UK Government funds for women and girls seeking abortion in England has not been scrutinised for efficacy; and there is a failure to respond to international human rights obligations. It is in this context that the Committee has undertaken an inquiry into matters relating to the health and lives of women and girls.

Terms of reference

3.The inquiry’s terms of reference are as follows:

About the inquiry

4.The inquiry into Abortion law in Northern Ireland was launched in September 2018 and closed for written submissions on 10 December 2018. We were keen to seek a wide range of views, in particular from those directly impacted by the law.

5.We visited Northern Ireland twice during the inquiry, in November 2018 and January 2019. We held oral evidence sessions in three different locations in Northern Ireland (in Antrim, Derry/Londonderry and Belfast), and held two further oral evidence sessions in Westminster. We also held a series of private meetings and roundtables with individual women, professionals, statutory bodies, campaigners, politicians and service providers. We are very grateful to all of those who gave their time to speak to us, in particular the women who gave testimony about their very personal experiences.

6.We received a large volume of just under 700 written submissions reflecting the views and experiences of individual women impacted by the law, members of the public, campaign groups, churches, medical and legal professional bodies as well as the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. In addition, the Committee has received 2,260 identical submissions from different people via the Right to Life website which have been published under the submission of Robert Eaton.2 A wide range of views are expressed in the evidence received which we have not been able to cover fully in the report. Some of the arguments in support of the existing law include:

7.Other evidence we have received in support of a change to the law include the following views:

Use of terms

8.This report is on a sensitive subject about a very personal matter that has a profound impact on people’s lives. We have tried to use terminology that is appropriate to the context. This means that, for example, we spell ‘foetal’ consistently, other than in relation to the Working Group on Fatal Fetal Abnormality where we have used the spelling that the Working Group uses in its report. We have mostly used the term ‘foetus’ except where witnesses or individuals themselves have used other terminology to describe their own situation, such as ‘unborn child’.

1 Dr Abigail Aiken (ANI0017), Alliance for Choice (ANI0377), Amnesty International UK and FPA (ANI0008), ARK (ANI0343)

2 Robert Eaton (ANI0436)

3 Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (ANI0689), Norma McMurray (ANI0128), Dr Alan Mitchell (ANI0395), Evangelical Alliance NI (ANI0307), Iona Institute NI (ANI0324)

4 Q48, Life Northern Ireland (Life NI) (ANI0267), Pauline Wilson (ANI0532)

5 CARE Northern Ireland (ANI0190), Precious Life (ANI0366), Catholic Union of Great Britain (ANI0220),

6 British Pregnancy Advisory Service (ANI0265), Dr Lynsey Mitchell (ANI0347), Dr Claire Lougarre (ANI0024), Humanists UK (ANI0348), Equality Commission for NI (ANI0359)

7 Reproductive Health Law and Policy Advisory Group (ANI0687), Doctors for Choice UK (ANI0308), Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) (ANI0391), Royal College of Midwives (ANI0349), Amnesty International UK and FPA (ANI0008)

8 Liberty (ANI0075), ARK (ANI0343)

9 Dawn Purvis (ANI0330), Women’s Aid Federation of England, Scottish Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid (ANI0418), Abortion Rights Campaign (ANI0222), Reclaim the Agenda (ANI0405), London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign (ANI0270)

Published: 25 April 2019