Poll reveals support to change Northern Ireland abortion law

By Hollie Ewers on 10 October 2018 Abortion Northern Ireland Amnesty International

A quarter (75%) of the UK public say the UK government should act to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. 

The findings from Amnesty International’s opinion polls analysed the attitudes of the Northern Irish and Great British public separately to gauge opinions about Northern Irish women being subjected to the strict abortion law. 

The results show high levels of public support for abortion law change, with 65% of adults in Northern Ireland agreeing that abortion should not be a crime, and 78% of British people in favour of decriminalisation.

The poll’s results have been released at the same time that a private members’ bill to decriminalise consensual abortion in Northern Ireland, Wales and England has been launched in parliament by Diana Johnson MP.

A group of women from Northern Ireland, who have been affected by the near-total ban on abortion in the country, have publically described the pain and distress caused by the current law and called on MPs to back moves for reform as a cross-party bill to decriminalise abortion is launched in parliament.

The bill, which was drafted with support of Amnesty International UK, the Family Planning Association, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Professor Sally Sheldon and others, aims to update current abortion laws so they are based on women’s welfare and best medical practice, and to ensure that women in Northern Ireland, England and Wales are no longer criminalised for seeking an abortion. 

The bill will be introduced in the House of Commons on 23 October.

Diana Johnson MP said that women who have abortions are not criminals and the law should not treat them as such: ‘In Northern Ireland, criminal prosecutions for women who try to access abortion services or obtain abortion pills from the internet are a reality – this absolutely cannot continue.’

A video also released today (10 October) features a young Northern Irish woman, Emma who is 18, telling MPs that abortion ‘is not a devolved issue’, while 28 weeks pregnant with a baby with a fatal fetal anomaly. 

She was denied an abortion in Northern Ireland and felt unable to travel for treatment in England. See the video here.
RCM executive director for services to members Suzanne Tyler said: ‘The film released today by BPAS is heart-breaking and shows the human cost of bad legislation. It’s a film with pleas from women that we should not be watching in 2018 and the RCM admires the bravery of those women who have spoken out for the thousands who could not.’
She said that the time is now for Westminster to legislate: ‘The RCM strongly believes that all women should be able to access abortion services without risking prosecution, but also that women in Northern Ireland should have access to the same abortion healthcare services that are afforded to women who live in other parts of the UK.
‘Furthermore, midwives practising in Northern Ireland have been operating in a climate of fear for many years, as have many other healthcare professionals who still feel unable to refer women to other parts of the UK for abortion services for fear of criminal prosecution.’

Suzanne added that the recent abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland makes changes to legislation in Northern Ireland all the more urgent and the RCM hopes this can be achieved quickly, despite the absence of a government in Northern Ireland.

‘The RCM stands for trusting women to make informed choices that are right for them and this bill will allow that to happen,’ she said.