The law in Northern Ireland

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland. The relevant legislation is the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It states that:

  • No woman may attempt to "procure her own miscarriage" using poison or any instrument.
  • It is unlawful to assist any woman who attempts to have an abortion.

Northern Ireland has the strictest abortion laws in the UK.

Cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality are not considered grounds for a legal termination of a pregnancy. Note that fatal foetal abnormality is a diagnosis (usually made around 20 weeks into a pregnancy) of an abnormality which will result in the unborn child's death in the womb, at birth or shortly after birth.

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The law also covers abortion pills, which can be purchased on the internet. It is illegal to have these delivered to an address in Northern Ireland and the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison.

What are the alternatives to abortion?

Options for avoiding pregnancy and dealing with unwanted pregnancy
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In 2011 there were 202,402 abortions in England, Wales and Scotland. This is an increase from 119,000 in 1974.

To avoid an unwanted pregnancy, the following options can also be considered:

  • Contraception - education about contraception for any sexually active individual helps them to take responsibility and avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Contraceptive advice is freely available from family doctors and family planning clinics.
  • Avoiding sexual activity - avoiding sexual activity until the person is ready for parenthood is thought by some to be effective, particularly if there are issues with using contraception. Some people, and many Christians, wait for marriage before beginning a sexual relationship.

When a pregnancy is unwanted, the following options can be considered:

  • Adoption - an individual or a couple become a child's legal parent(s) after its birth. The adopted child usually takes on the surname of the adoptive parent(s) and they also inherit from them. The child's birth-parents no longer have any rights or responsibilities towards the child. Adoption is usually the preferred option if the child's birth parents are not able to look after the child.
  • Practical support to keep the baby - some organisations provide new mothers with financial support for housing and to buy baby clothes and food. This is to encourage the mothers to have the child rather than to have an abortion. This might mean that the child can be brought up by its birth-mother.
  • Counselling - this can support an individual faced with an unexpected pregnancy in coming to terms with the situation, also to think through the options calmly before making a decision. Counselling may be available for the wider family as well.