Abortion: Public consulted on new Northern Ireland laws

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

Related Topics
Image source, Chinnapong
Image caption,
No criminal charges will be brought against healthcare workers who provide a termination or assist in one

A public consultation about a new legal framework on abortion services in Northern Ireland has been opened.

It follows the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland last month after MPs passed a law in Parliament.

The government has to put legislation in place by 31 March 2020 regarding the provision of abortion services.

The Northern Ireland Office has said the consultation will close on 16 December.

The government said it would welcome comments from "anyone in Northern Ireland with an interest or view, particularly those directly impacted by the current law and any proposed changes and health professionals" to inform the shape of legislation.

The consultation paper is 42 pages long and details the legislative changes introduced last month, as well as proposals the government is exploring.

It asks questions relating to what the limit for early terminations of pregnancy - without conditions - should be.

It also asks respondents if abortion should be available without a time limit in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality, where there is a substantial risk that the fetus would die or if born "would suffer a severe impairment, including a mental or physical disability which is likely to significantly limit either the length or quality of the child's life".

The government states it is also seeking views "on whether a new power may be required in Northern Ireland to ensure that the new services can be provided and accessed in a way that protects women from harassment by anti-abortion protesters".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Charges can no longer be brought against those who have an abortion

"Any new power would be used in a way which complies with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association," it adds.

It also asks about conscientious objections - where medical practitioners and other healthcare professionals may opt out of certain duties on grounds of conscience.

The consultation will last for six weeks.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said he was "acutely aware" that the provision of abortion services is devolved to Northern Ireland, including health and social services.

"I am also deeply sympathetic to the fact that this is a highly sensitive and complex matter, with differing and strongly held views across society," he added.

More on this story