Abortion law in Northern Ireland Contents

7Marginalised women and girls

118.All women and girls from Northern Ireland can now access free abortion provision in England funded by the UK Government and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service is funded to manage a central booking service to this provision.139 Women and girls on low income can apply for means tested accommodation and travel costs to access free abortion provision in England but they may still lose pay and childcare costs. We have been greatly concerned to hear evidence about the impact of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland on marginalised groups of women and girls and that their access to the UK Government funded scheme for provision in England is not equitable.140

119.We received evidence from women and girls who were too ill to travel and would not be able to access this provision.141 Researchers and support agencies told us that women who are being abused or coerced by their partner may not be able to explain their lengthy absence or risk violence or abuse if they do. Abortion Support Network provides information for vulnerable women and girls in Northern Ireland to travel to access abortion in England or elsewhere. It told us service users include; “Clients in abusive relationships whose partners hide or destroy [ … ] all photo ID to prevent them from travelling to obtain abortion care”.142 Goretti Horgan made the contrast in her oral evidence between the small number of abortions performed lawfully in Northern Ireland in recent statistics (12), compared with approximately 900 women who travelled to access an abortion during the same period. She said; “While those women were able to travel and avail themselves of the free access, and that is a welcome form of remedy for some, we have to remember the position of women unable to travel, and that includes women in particularly vulnerable situations, such as domestic violence, women who do not have confirmed immigration status, or women who simply have other children and do not have childcare and therefore cannot travel.”143

120.We have also received evidence from the Women’s Resource and Development Agency that women who are subject to immigration control may face additional barriers if they need to travel to access abortion services. This includes travelling outside of the UK, as well as within the UK (e.g. for undocumented migrant women and girls), and include financial barriers, reporting requirements to the Home Office and the need to be registered with a GP, and additional language barriers of accessing quality accurate information.144

121.Women and girls who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest, and professionals who become aware of this, may face prosecution under Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (Northern Ireland) if they have not reported the offence to the police.

122.Discussing the inequitable access for different groups of women and girls to the funded scheme and whether the Government Equalities Office (GEO) can communicate directly with women and professionals in Northern Ireland, the Minister for Women and Equalities said:

the advice that I have been given on this is that I do not have the authority to do that. We can, through central communications, through the GEO, raise the awareness of a service. In terms of issuing guidance and giving confidence to healthcare professionals, or indeed tackling the issues that exist around those advisory and support services being able to offer the kinds of services they would like to be able to but feel that they cannot, because they do not wish to retain people’s information or other things, I do not have the authority to change that.145

123.The UK Government’s funding for abortion provision in England has been welcomed by many but it is not accessed equally by different groups of women and girls:

124.Women and girls who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest, and professionals who become aware of this, may face prosecution under Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (Northern Ireland) if they have not reported the offence to the police.

125.The Government Equalities Office should carry out an impact assessment, or publish any that have been carried out, to ascertain whether the policy of funding abortion provision in England can be accessed equitably by different groups of women and girls in Northern Ireland.

126.The Government Equalities Office should work with community organisations supporting migrant women and girls, victims of violence and other marginalised groups to develop an information campaign to explain the funding of abortion provision, in particular to marginalised groups of women and girls.146

127.The Government Equalities Office should work with the Home Office to develop pathways for migrant women to travel to England to access the scheme.

128.The Attorney General for Northern Ireland should issue human rights guidance on Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (Northern Ireland) similar to the guidance on social security to state that it will rarely be in the public interest to prosecute survivors of rape and incest, and professionals treating them, who have not reported the offence to the police.


140 Abortion Support Network (ANI0369)

141 Alliance for Choice (ANI0370), Amnesty International UK and FPA (ANI0008)

142 Abortion Support Network (ANI0369)

144 Women’s Resource and Development Agency (ANI0403)

146 Government Equalities Office has a commitment to supporting isolated and marginalised women, see for example Mordaunt launches fund to help isolated and marginalised women return to work, February 2019




Published: 25 April 2019