Northern Irish Women's Access To Abortion Is About To Change In A Huge Way

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Back in May of this year, Ireland voted to repeal its highly restrictive abortion ban, allowing many more women the ability to exercise their reproductive rights. However, while abortion did become legal in the Republic of Ireland following the referendum, the procedure remains illegal in Northern Ireland, which is a separate country. Nonetheless, Northern Irish Women's abortion access is still going to improve following the Republic's referendum, as the country has promised to allow women from the North to similarly obtain the procedure.

As The Times reported, Ireland's health minister, Simon Harris, said at an event in Belfast on Tuesday that he plans to make sure that women from Northern Ireland can access abortion in Ireland as part of the Irish health service. The Times noted that Harris said to attendees at the event:

Last year at least 919 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England and Wales to access abortion services. This is a reality for women in Northern Ireland and one that I hope their politicians address. In the meantime, I intend to ensure women from Northern Ireland can access such services in the Republic, just like they can access other health services here.

Harris also added, as reported by The Times, that a woman's right to access health services “does not stop at the border."

As the Irish Times reported, Northern Ireland has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. Abortion is not allowed in incidents of fatal fetal abnormalities, incest, or rape. According to Northern Irish law, abortions are only permitted, if "it is necessary to preserve the life of the woman, or there is a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long term or permanent."

According to The Guardian, in the past, many women from Northern Ireland would travel to other countries in the United Kingdom, like England and Wales, to receive abortion services. Now that abortion is legal in Ireland, Northern Irish women will have another, more logistically straightforward way to seek abortion services.

However, this access will not come immediately, as it has not yet even arrived for women living in the Republic of Ireland. As the Irish Times reported, while the referendum to repeal the constitutional amendment banning abortions in Ireland was passed in May, legislation to implement this repeal has not yet been passed.

RTÉ reported that Harris said at the Belfast event yesterday that he plans to introduce legislation to "give effect" to the repeal in autumn of this year. The Irish Times also added that there would be provisions made for women in Northern Ireland in the legislation. Harris also noted that, while the Republic of Ireland will offer more abortion access options to Northern Irish women, he hopes that Northern Irish representatives will also work to make abortion laws less restrictive in the country.

Other politicians also feel similarly about Northern Ireland's abortion laws. Indeed, RTÉ reported that, in July, over 100 politicians from Ireland and the United Kingdom signed a letter requesting that the British and Irish governments act to reform Northern Irish abortion laws, citing the current lack of an elected government in Northern Ireland since it was devolved over 500 days ago.

Overall, the Republic of Ireland certainly stands to offer Northern Irish women more options when it comes to abortion access. However, many people are still hopeful that Northern Ireland will also take steps to change its own abortion laws — and allow women increased access within its own borders.