Abortion rollout in N Ireland faces delays that could prompt London to get involved

“Abortion is normal” was the slogan during a poster campaign across Northern Ireland last fall. However, more than two years after it was legalized in the region – and a month before the deadline London imposed on local officials to make it fully available – the situation is anything but special. apart from.

Abortion was banned in Northern Ireland in most cases for almost 150 years until legalized in October 2019. Now, on paper, the region has more progressive legislation on abortion than the rest of the UK.

In practice, however, abortion in Northern Ireland, despite abortion being allowed in many circumstances up to 24 weeks, may prove to be impossible.

A political deadlock follows resignation of First Minister Paul Givan this month has hampered the ability of Northern Ireland’s law enforcement to come up with new policy, making the prospect of the abortion service up and running by the end of March uncertain. This is exacerbated by the fact that most politicians are already looking ahead to regional council elections on May 5, where other problems, such as the deadlock of agreements post-Brexit trade, is set to prevail.

That could force London to hand over leadership of the executive branch that currently has no leadership.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary in Boris Johnson’s government, said he was considering all legal options. Naomi Connor, who co-convened campaign group Alliance for Choice, which commissioned the fall billboard campaign, said she has received assurances that Lewis intends to proceed if Belfast fails to do so “but that is not the case” must be certain. . . We don’t take anything for granted.”

Belfast’s High Court this month rejected a challenge from the Association for the Protection of Unborn Children and support the rights of Lewis to advance the issue, which has proved to be political football for months.

Givan’s withdrawal from the automatic power-sharing government subject First Deputy Minister Michelle O’Neill to the region’s complex political rules, but left other ministers to work with limited functions.

However, even with the governing body fully operational, health minister Robin Swann has not authorized the services, arguing that multi-party approval is needed for controversial and important decisions. important.

Naomi Connor, who co-convened the Alliance for Choice campaign group

Naomi Connor, said she has received assurances that Lewis intends to continue if Belfast does not © Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

The issue has long been contentious in socially conservative Northern Ireland, where women have a history of traveling across the Irish Sea for contract termination from which they were unable to return home. Northern Ireland still criminalizes abortion even if The Republic legalizes it in 2018.

Elizabeth Nelson, a writer and activist, said: “It’s been years and we still haven’t had free, safe and real local abortion. “You must continue to promote the rights you know you have.”

Because of their pro-life beliefs, many members – who traditionally hold a political majority and are staunch defenders of Northern Ireland’s place in the UK – have opposed granting women the right to abortion. like women in England. There, despite more restrictive laws, abortion is practically free.

Indeed, Givan’s Democratic Unionist party tried just before Christmas to limit legalization through a bill seeking to outlaw abortion in cases of severe fetal abnormalities, saying it would discriminate against fetuses with Down syndrome and other non-fatal defects.

Jim Allister, leader of the hard-line Unifying Voices

Jim Allister, leader of the traditionally tough Unifying Voice © Brian Lawless / PA

At a vote during the Stormont convention – in which Jim Allister, leader of the traditional hardline Unification Voice (TUV) asked “does disability deserve to die?” – the proposal was defeated by two votes.

“We had a majority in Stormont for the first time,” said Connor, who traveled to the UK to have an abortion almost a decade ago. “But there is no guarantee that this [commissioning of abortion services] will be implemented in March 2022.”

In some parts of Northern Ireland, abortions are now offered up to 10 weeks, using the pill, and the health department says more than 2,550 abortions have been offered since March 2020.

The law allows later abortions, but women who are more than 10 weeks pregnant will still need to travel to the UK in the absence of a full range of authorized services in Northern Ireland. In spite of the trip and the procedure is freeCovid-19 has made it more difficult.

Northern Ireland abortion poster from Coalition for Choice

Northern Ireland abortion poster from Coalition for Choice

The Northern Irish Law provides unrestricted access to abortions up to 12 weeks. Abortion is permitted up to 24 weeks of age if the risk of physical or emotional harm outweighs the risk of abortion, and can even be performed afterwards if the mother may die or the fetus cannot survive.

Although some opinion polls show strong support in Northern Ireland, the procedure is still stigmatized. The Coalition for Choice posters peeled off within a few days, and the billboard owner removed them within a week for vandalism.

Northern Ireland’s law was changed following a decision by the UK Supreme Court in 2018 that it human rights violations. It falls to Westminster to legislate in 2019 as power-sharing chief executive Stormont has collapsed due to an energy scandal.

Stormont was reinstated in January 2020 and was supposed to offer full abortion services by April of that year. After that deadline passed without service being established, Lewis set the deadline for March 2022.

Dawn Purvis a former union member and independent legislator

Dawn Purvis a former union member and independent legislator who opened the island’s first abortion clinic in Belfast © Liam McBurney/PA

But Dawn Purvis, a former union member and independent lawmaker who opened the first abortion clinic on the island of Belfast in 2012 on the basis that abortion is allowed in Northern Ireland if a mother has risk of death or serious mental or physical harm, was skeptical that local politicians would act. “I can not see it. . . she speaks.

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