1. Didn’t the 1967 Abortion Act make abortion de facto legal?
Abortion remains a criminal offence in the UK unless certain conditions are met. It didn’t replace the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, and it only works to the extent that we work around that law.
In England, Scotland and Wales, two doctors have to sign a legal document before a woman is allowed to have an abortion. They have to confirm that the pregnancy involves a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman, or her existing children, than having a termination.
This de facto legalisation is unsatisfactory because it remains at the discretion of doctors and with new guidance or a shift in attitudes could be taken away at any time. One only has to look at the situation Scotland, where according to the BBC “it is very hard to obtain [an abortion] after 18 weeks” to see how the looseness of the law can be used to harm women.
WE are pushing for abortion to be taken out of criminal law altogether so that no woman ever faces prosecution, including in Northern Ireland.
2. Why does Northern Ireland have a different law?
The 1967 Abortion Act was not extended to Northern Ireland. Instead the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act makes it a criminal offence to procure a miscarriage.
In 1945 an exception was added that abortion could be permitted to preserve the life of the mother. Abortions are also allowed if continuing with the pregnancy will result in other serious physical or mental health effects.
This makes abortions almost impossible to access for women in Northern Ireland (only 16 abortions were carried out in NI by healthcare professionals in 2015-16), including women that are raped and women who want to continue their pregnancy to term but learn that their unborn child will not survive outside the womb. In the last year, 724 Northern Irish women travelled to England and Wales to access an abortion, with significant financial and emotional costs.
3. Can Northern Irish women access abortions on the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales?
Important progress was made in June 2017, when Northern Irish women were granted access to free terminations on the NHS in mainland Britain. This October, we learnt that women on low incomes will receive support for travel and accommodation, which is a huge step forward.
However, women in Northern Ireland should be able to access free, safe and legal abortions without having to travel to another country. The UK government is responsible for upholding the human rights of Northern Irish women, and WE will not accept progress for some women at the expense of others.
4. What about women in Ireland?
Campaigners have made huge progress by securing a referendum in Ireland next year on whether to repeal its ban on abortion in almost all circumstances. WE stand in solidarity with those women, and will campaign alongside them at every opportunity. Because human rights have no borders.
5. What about transgender, non-binary and intersex people?
The Women’s Equality Party supports all genders and non-binary people who require abortion services to have access to free, safe and legal terminations.