Abortion laws in Northern Ireland

Abortion laws in Northern Ireland have changed. You might be wondering why this has happened and what it all means. Read on as we explain what you need to know about abortion in Northern Ireland, including whether abortion is illegal there and how to access abortion services.

A group of protesters hold up anti-abortion signs

Is abortion illegal in Northern Ireland?

No, abortion is not illegal in Northern Ireland (as of October 2019).

How has the law on abortion changed?

Previously, those who wanted to have an abortion had to cross the Irish Sea to England and Wales to do so without facing criminal charges.

From March 2020 onwards the introduction of a new law brought abortion services to Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Women and girls in Northern Ireland now have the right to end a pregnancy without facing legal action unconditionally up to 12 weeks gestation and up to 24 weeks if there is a danger to the mother’s mental or physical wellbeing.

Abortion is also legal in the Republic of Ireland, find out more about abortion in Ireland here.

Why was abortion illegal in Northern Ireland?

There are many people in Northern Ireland who believe that abortion is wrong and tried to stop the law from being changed.

These people range from politicians in parties such as the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), to Pro-Life activists, who campaign against abortion rights. Either for religious reasons or otherwise, those who are anti-abortion believe that women and girls shouldn’t have the right to end their pregnancy.

Before the law was changed, abortion was only legal in exceptional cases, where it was believed that the person’s life was is in danger, or that the pregnancy would be a great risk to their physical or mental health.

Who did legalising abortion in Northern Ireland affect?

In 2018, 1,053 women and girls travelled to England and Wales from Northern Ireland seeking legal abortions. This was often a traumatic process and many who went through it suffered an anxious journey; sometimes done in secret without their family or friends knowing.

Some women who couldn’t travel at all took the risk of ordering abortion pills, which are available via your doctor in England and Wales, but were illegal to order online. This is no longer the case.

Who campaigned for abortion law in Northern Ireland to change?

Abortion has been legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 1967, when the Abortion Act made termination legal up to 24 weeks into pregnancy. Activists campaigned to extend the same rights to Northern Irish women.

Many feminist campaign groups, Pro-Choice activists and politicians such as the Labour MP, Stella Creasy, aruged that women and girls should have the right to decide whether they want to have an abortion.

Activists argue that anti-abortion laws stop women from having control over their own bodies and contradict all the progress that has been fought for by the women’s rights movement.

Why has the law on abortion changed in Northern Ireland?

Changing the law on abortion has been very difficult for a long time, because there has been so much resistance from opposing groups as well as those in power.

The government in Northern Ireland was suspended between 2017 and early 2020 because of ongoing disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Because of this, Westminster was able to push through the law because the suspended government didn’t return to stop it.

This means that although the law has been changed, there are still many people in the government who oppose it.

What does this mean if I live in Northern Ireland and want an abortion?

If you live in Northern Ireland, you can now legally have an abortion. However, opening up access to abortions has been a slow and difficult process thwarted by various legal challenges. Whilst abortions are now legal, they are yet to become widely available and you may need to travel in order to get access to abortion services. Abortions can be legally carried out by your GP, at a Health and Social Care (HSC) premises or at home using abortion pills. Early medical abortions (under 10 weeks) can be arranged Central Access Point, call 028 9031 6100 9am-6pm Monday to Friday.

If you are facing a long journey and need support, we’re here for you. Making a decision to have an abortion can be difficult and scary and you don’t need to do it alone. If you can, confide in a friend or family member, or someone else you trust so they can help you through the process.

More support & information on abortions in Northern Ireland

Take a look at our articles on the abortion procedure and dealing with an abortion. You can also contact our support services to speak to one of our trained team of experts. Organisations such as Brook and BPAS also offer advice and support and have lots of information on abortion.

If you’re under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out, complete this form and we’ll call you to arrange your first session.

Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • bpas (the british pregnancy advisory service) offer advice on unwanted pregnancy and contraception. 03457 30 40 30
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 30-Nov-2022