The British government published regulations Tuesday giving British officials the power to compel Northern Ireland to implement a full scope of reproductive care services, following a 2019 law that legalized abortions in the region. Supporters say this law is a step in the right direction for women needing to access abortion procedures, but critics from Northern Ireland’s socially conservative parties say that the law interferes with the region’s right to control their own health services.
In 2018, the UN found that Northern Ireland’s abortion restrictions constituted discrimination against women. At the time, “procuring a miscarriage” was criminalized. The next year, the British Parliament passed amendments legalizing abortion in Northern Ireland. Under the law, women were entitled to an abortion without restrictions before 12 weeks, with no time limit for cases that pose a danger to the mother’s physical or mental health. Parliament then approved Northern Ireland’s proposed policies in a bill known as the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations of 2020.
However, the regional government has been accused of failing to implement a complete spectrum of procedures according to the law. Abortion providers have only been performing procedures for people who are 10 weeks pregnant or less, forcing others to travel to other parts of the UK for abortion care or order pills illegally online.
Tuesday’s regulations provide the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, with authority to oversee the rollout of full-service abortion care. Lewis said in a statement that, “My strong preference remains for the Northern Ireland Department of Health and the Northern Ireland Executive to take responsibility for commissioning these services and it is a matter of regret that they haven’t yet done so and I have had to take these steps to deliver on our shared moral and legal obligations.”