The passing of last year’s Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act repealed the criminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland and set out expanded grounds for legal abortions.
Prior to the Act, Northern Ireland had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world with criminal sentencing up to life in prison, with no exception for rape, incest, or cases of fatal foetal abnormality. In 2018, The UK Supreme Court found that this situation to be “untenable”, treating women “like vehicles”.
For 50 years, women in Northern Ireland did not have equal rights to women in the rest of the UK, but no one took political responsibility for tackling the issue until last year.
This week, on Tuesday 2 June, Stormont passed a DUP motion by a slim majority of six votes that “rejects the imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities’. This was a non-binding motion and does not change the law that already stands, but it did signal a desire to roll back the hard-won rights of women and girls.
While there is some abortion provision in Northern Ireland, much more work needs to be done to get a full service up and running. The Department of Health must urgently commission services and ensure they are accessible to all who need them. This is where attention should now be focusing – and the issue is now over to Stormont, not Westminster.
Women in Northern Ireland have waited decades for the same rights as women in the rest of the UK. The UK Government must now take action to ensure that these rights are implemented and that women have access to the abortion services that they are legally entitled to.