Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Briefing

Abortion in Northern Ireland: is change on the cards?

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 01 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i629
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent, The BMJ
  1. claredyer4{at}

The right to an abortion in Northern Ireland is governed by a 19th century statute. Is that all about to change, asks Clare Dyer

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most draconian in Europe. Abortion is virtually banned in the province, permitted only when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or serious, long lasting damage to her mental or physical health. A doctor who performs an abortion in any other circumstances risks prosecution and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. A judge at the High Court in Belfast has ruled that the law violates the European Convention on Human Rights. But how likely is it to change?

How does the law in Northern Ireland differ from the rest of the UK?

Abortion in England, Wales, and Scotland was liberalised by the Abortion Act 1967. This allows an abortion up to 24 weeks’ gestation if two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy would involve greater risk than …

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