NI leaders divided over new abortion regulations

New regulations for abortion services in Northern Ireland have been published.

From 31 March, the regulations will allow abortion on request for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and abortion up to 24 weeks on the grounds that continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl.

Abortion will also be available in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies, with no gestational limit.

The regulations were laid by the UK Government on Wednesday, after a landmark law change last October following a private member's bill at Westminster which decriminalised abortion in Northern Ireland.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have expressed opposing views on the regulations.

Ms Foster said: "I have to say I fundamentally reject that Westminster have brought these forward today, it should have been this place that dealt with those issues.

"We have a devolved administration, it should have been the devolved administration that dealt with those issues."

Ms O'Neill said: "I am glad to see progress on the guidelines in making sure it is very clear that we support women who find themselves in very vulnerable situations when they need our health service to support them.”

Earlier, Amnesty International welcomed the regulations, but warned that they will fail to keep women safe during the current health emergency.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's NI campaign manager, said the guidelines do not permit women to take both abortion pills at home, during a time when Government advice has been against travel to stop the spread of Covid-19.

She said: "The Government's decision not to allow women to self-manage abortions at home during the current health crisis is dangerous and puts women at risk.

"Travel for this healthcare is neither a safe nor viable option at the moment and government should be doing what it can to help women in the safety of their home."

Pro-life campaigners have called the regulations the "wrong course for Northern Ireland".

Care NI chief executive, Nola Leach, said it was a "deeply sad day" for Northern Ireland, adding there will be "considerable anger" at the framework.

She went on: "The fact the Northern Ireland Office is proposing a more liberalised law on abortion than the one currently in place in Great Britain adds insult to injury.

"The reality is that Westminster should never have acted to override the devolved Assembly on this issue.”