Timeline: Human Rights Commission Legal Action on Lack of Abortion Services in NI
May 2021 Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) published Monitoring Report on Reproductive Healthcare Provision in NI. The research was initiated between July 2020- January 21. Read more here.
From 23 April 2021, the Western Health and Social Care Trust ceased early medical abortions until further notice.
March 2021: The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland introduced The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021. Read more here.
February 2021: A Bill was introduced in the NI Assembly to amend the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 to remove the ground for an abortion in cases of severe fetal impairment. The Bill is currently at Committee stage at the NI Assembly. Read more here. Read the NIHRC response to the Bill here.
January 2021:On 5 January 2021, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust ceased to provide a service due to staffing issues. This was restored on 1 February 2021.
The NIHRC on 3 November 2020 issued pre-action correspondence to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, NI Executive and the Department of Health for Northern Ireland.
From the start of October 2020, termination services introduced by the health and social care trusts have experienced a roll back. For three months, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust could no longer offer any termination services due to lack of commissioning from the Department of Health and the service was only restored at the beginning of January 2021.
The other health and social care trusts continue to provide termination services, but these only extend to individuals that are less than 10 weeks pregnant. Thus, those between 10 and 12 weeks pregnant, unless a termination is required for a medical reason, are not able to access termination services in NI in line with the Abortion Regulations and face having to travel or use unregulated services.
On 14 May 2020, the original regulations were revoked and replaced by the Abortion (NI) (No 2) Regulations 2020. This was for administrative reasons, with no substantive changes to the circumstances in which terminations can be performed in NI and the procedural requirements attached to this.
In April 2020, the Commission committed to:
monitor the provision of reproductive healthcare services and education in Northern Ireland, following the introduction of a new legal framework for abortion, and engage with the Department of Health and Department of Education in accordance with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.
Between mid-April and start of June 2020, health and social care trusts in NI
guided by the regulations started providing certain services within their existing resources and without financial support from the Department of Health.
On 31 March 2020, in line with the NI (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 came into force. The regulations allow terminations:
Under any circumstances for a pregnancy not exceeding 12 weeks;
Where the pregnancy poses an actual or reasonably foreseeable risk to the mental or physical health of the pregnant woman or girl for a pregnancy not exceeding 24 weeks; or
Anytime during the pregnancy where there is an immediate necessity, a risk to life or grave permanent injury to physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl, or in cases of severe fetal impairment or fatal fetal abnormality.
On 3 October 2019, the High Court in Belfast found that Sarah Ewart’s rights had been breached by the law on abortion in NI, and ruled that her right to private and family life had been violated. The judgment relied on the decision of the UK Supreme Court in Re an application by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
June 2018: The Commission’s Supreme Court Case
In June 2018, the UK Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the NIHRC challenge to Termination of Pregnancy laws. The Court concluded the current law in NI breaches human rights, in particular women and girls’ right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest.
In April 2018, the Departments of Health and Justice released a report on fatal foetal abnormality, which recommended that the law in NI is changed. In particular, the report found that the existing legal framework prevented healthcare professionals from fully meeting their duty of care to women.
In February 2018, CEDAW Committee’s Inquiry Report called for the
decriminalisation of termination of pregnancy in NI and for access to termination to be permitted in circumstances where there is a threat to the women’s physical or mental health, in cases of rape or incest or in cases of serious fatal abnormality of the foetus. The Committee found the UK Government responsible for grave and systemic violations of the Convention. The UK Government did not accept the findings but held that a detailed response would be prepared once the NI Executive and NI Assembly were restored.
Since November 2017, NI women can receive NHS termination services in England, Scotland and Wales. Department of Health (NI)’s 2016 guidance to healthcare providers remains unchanged and does not reflect the availability of free services in England, Scotland and Wales. It also does not clarify when NI health professionals can provide information to women about accessing services elsewhere.