SUCCUMBING TO MOUNTING legal pressure, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health authorized abortion services in the region, putting into force legislation that overturns one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.
Abortion in most cases up to 12 weeks became legal in Northern Ireland’s hospitals in October 2019. There are also provisions for pregnan- cies beyond that period in extreme circumstances, such as threat to the life of the mother. In April 2020, health officials finally signaled that abortions could go ahead, after allega- tions that antichoice politi- cians, including health minister Robin Swann, were stalling implementation of a ruling that provided for services to be introduced by the end of March.
Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK that banned abortions in almost all circumstances, until Labour MP Stella Creasy’s legislation was enacted. Before the laws went into effect, women in Northern Ireland seeking free abor- tions had to travel to England—a difficult trip made nearly impossible by COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Abortion services are available in the Republic of Ireland, but at a cost prohibitive for many women.
Abortion rights groups that brought pivotal pressure against the Department of Health are now calling on health officials to authorize the provision of telemedicine abortions, recently introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom. That would allow Northern Irish women in the early stages of pregnancy to self-administer abortion medication at home after a remote consultation with a doctor.