Editorials

The UK abortion anomaly that can no longer be ignored

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g3610 (Published 29 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3610
  1. Ann Furedi, chief executive officer
  1. 1British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Stratford upon Avon CV37 9BF, UK
  1. ann.furedi{at}bpas.org

Time for politicians to end nearly 50 years’ discrimination against women in Northern Ireland

For all the talk of commitment to equality for women throughout the United Kingdom, there is no equality of access to abortion for women who live in the six counties that make up Northern Ireland.

For women in the six counties, abortions are still available only in “highly exceptional circumstances,” which are undefined. In 2013, only 51 abortions were performed in Northern Ireland; meanwhile, more than a thousand women travelled to England for a procedure that is taken for granted by most women in the rest of the UK.1

While the recent death of a pregnant woman who had been denied termination of her pregnancy has drawn attention to the Republic of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws,2 the plight of women in the north has remained in the shadows. Most people assume that, because Northern Ireland is part of the UK, British law applies. And why shouldn’t it? The reason is that in 1967, when the Abortion Act first provided legal, but heavily regulated, access to abortion in Britain, Northern Ireland was specifically excluded. As a consequence, abortion services—or funding for abortion—which is provided routinely by the NHS in Britain, is not provided by the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board.

The Abortion Act 1967 brought 19th …

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