Why are Northern Ireland’s abortion laws different to the rest of the UK?

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A Belfast woman who bought drugs online to terminate her pregnancy – as she had no access to a legal abortion – has been given a suspended sentence. Why are abortions not allowed in Northern Ireland when they are in the rest of the UK?

The 19-year-old woman didn’t have the money to travel to England for a termination, so she bought drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage. Her housemates then reported her to the police.

It resulted in the woman, now 21, being given a suspended sentence at Belfast Crown Court. Why is the law around abortions in Northern Ireland so different from the rest of the UK?

No Abortion Act

The 1967 Abortion Act, which established legal abortion, has never applied in Northern Ireland. The woman’s defence barrister told the judge that had his client lived in any other region of the UK, she would “not have found herself before the courts”.

Taking drugs to bring on a miscarriage without doctors’ consent is still technically an offence anywhere in the UK under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. But in England, Scotland and Wales an abortion can be legally carried out up to the 24-week limit and can be legal beyond that limit in cases where the mother’s health is threatened or if there is a substantial risk the baby will have serious disabilities.

Abortion is possible but only in very specific circumstances

The law is far stricter than in the rest of the UK.

 

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