Consultation on widening abortion legislation in Northern Ireland

Any changes would apply to narrow range of cases, says justice Minister

The North’s Minister for Justice David Ford is to initiate a consultation on possible changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland that could permit terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. He also indicated that the consultation could cover abortion in cases of rape and incest.

The North’s Minister for Justice David Ford is to initiate a consultation on possible changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland that could permit terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. He also indicated that the consultation could cover abortion in cases of rape and incest.

Fri, Dec 6, 2013, 01:01


The North’s Minister for Justice David Ford is to initiate a consultation on possible changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland that could permit terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. He also indicated that the consultation could cover abortion in cases of rape and incest.

Mr Ford said yesterday that the 12-week consultation should begin by Easter next year at the latest. He decided to hold the consultation following cases of two women, one pregnant with twins, who complained about being denied abortions in Northern Ireland after their unborn babies were discovered to have the fatal foetal abnormality of anencephaly.

With anencephaly there is an absence of a major part of the brain, skull and scalp in the foetus. Babies are stillborn or usually die within a few hours or days.

The 1967 British abortion Act does not apply in the North. About 40 legal abortions take place annually in Northern Ireland, where termination is permitted where it is “necessary to preserve the life of the woman or there is a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long-term or permanent”.

More than 1,000 women from Northern Ireland travel abroad each year for abortion.

Alliance leader Mr Ford said yesterday that any changes would apply to a narrow range of cases. “There are clearly some very difficult cases in Northern Ireland which are not covered by the law,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan programme.

“What we have to do is carry out a consultation on the potential for change,” he said.

Viable life
“Now this is not talking about a wholesale introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act as applies across the water, it is simply saying that in a very narrow range of cases, I do believe we do need to consider whether it should be lawful to have an abortion in those circumstances where there is no chance of the foetus being delivered and having a viable life,” he added.

Mr Ford said he would also consider whether changes to the law should also take in victims of rape or incest. “It’s clearly a slightly wider area than just the issue of fatal foetal abnormality,” he said.

Any changes would require the support of the Northern Executive and Assembly.