UK

Abortion Law In Northern Ireland 'Endangers Women's Lives,' The UN Warns

24/07/2015 15:38 BST | Updated 24/07/2015 15:59 BST

The Northern Irish law banning abortions in nearly all circumstances endangers women's lives, the UN has said.

Unlike the rest of the UK, the province only allows abortions where the mother's life is threatened, meaning it is forbidden even in cases of rape or incest.

The UN's Human Rights Committee said this restriction put "women's lives and health at risk" and forced them to travel elsewhere to seek abortions.

abortion northern ireland

An anti-abortion rights protest outside a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast

"The committee notes with concern that the Department of Justice for Northern Ireland, after having held a consultation on the possible decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, indicated in April 2015 that it would propose legislation to legalise termination of pregnancy only in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality due to 'complex issues' raised by pregnancy as a result of sexual crimes," its report said.

The committee recommended that the province should legalise abortions that were the result of rape or incest or where there was a fatal foetal abnormality.

All the major political parties in Northern Ireland oppose liberalising the abortion law in line with the rest of the UK.

Around 2,000 women leave Northern Ireland every year to have abortions elsewhere. A mother and her teenage daughter this week lost their legal case where they tried to argue Northern Irish women should be entitled to abortions on the NHS elsewhere in the UK.

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At the moment, those who travel for abortions in mainland Britain have to pay to have the operation privately.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's campaigns manager in Northern Ireland, said the UN's criticism of province's abortion law made it a "global embarrassment".

She added: “Now that the UN has echoed Amnesty’s call for urgent abortion law reform, the executive needs to act... Women and girls deserve better. Change is long overdue and all eyes are now on the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Illegally procuring an abortion in Northern Ireland can be punishable by life imprisonment for both the woman and the person who carries it out.

Abortion Protests In Ireland