Govt will allow disabled unborn children to be aborted in NI

The Government says when the laws protecting the unborn are removed in Northern Ireland, children with disabilities can be aborted.

In July, Westminster politicians voted to impose abortion on the Province if the Stormont Assembly has not returned by 21 October.

If Assembly members do not return, existing pro-life protections will be immediately repealed.

This will leave a possible five-month period where there is no legal abortion framework, until there is a new law, which must be brought in by 31 March 2020.

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until abortion imposed on Northern Ireland
22 October 2019 00:00:00 GMT+01:00

Decriminalised

The Government has now released guidance on how the law will work in the interim period.

During this time, criminal charges can still be brought against women who have an abortion, or anyone who facilitates or performs an abortion if the child is “then capable of being born alive”.

While the sale and supply of abortion pills online will remain technically illegal, any woman taking the pills will not face a criminal investigation.

In practice, women in Northern Ireland seeking an abortion are still likely to have to travel to England until a new framework is in place.

Cleft palate

Abortion will be available in Northern Ireland on the basis of severely life-limiting conditions, or in cases of “serious” disabilities, but this is not clearly defined.

In England and Wales, abortions have been permitted for conditions like a cleft palate, which can be treated with surgery.

Some allowance is made for conscientious objection, but only in the circumstances of actively participating in an abortion.

Viable

If a woman asks for an abortion for any other reason, she must be referred to NHS services in England, and her travel and accommodation expenses will be provided for her.

In such cases it will remain illegal to “destroy the life of a child then capable of being born alive”, but again there is no clear definition.

The legal limit for an abortion in England and Wales is set at 24 weeks, which is deemed the age of ‘viability’, but with care, many babies born before that time limit are able to thrive.

‘Seriously reckless’

Mark Baillie of CARE NI said the guidelines “reflect just how bad this new law really is”.

“They are the product of a badly thought through and poorly drafted piece of legislation which was rushed through Parliament without any consultation whatsoever with the people who actually live here and are impacted by this law.”

Dawn McAvoy, co-founder of Both Lives Matter, said she had “grave concerns that for the first time in Northern Ireland, children diagnosed in the womb with disabilities are going to be permitted to have their lives ended in law”.

She added: “This document shows why it is seriously reckless to remove legislation without putting a pre-arranged regulatory framework in place first”.

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