All eyes were on the Republic of Ireland this weekend when it voted resoundingly in favor of repealing its near-total ban on abortion. In the days since, some of that attention has turned to Northern Ireland, where pressure is mounting to change its own restrictive abortion laws.
Though Northern Ireland is a member of the United Kingdom, where abortions are permitted within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy (and later, under exceptional circumstances), U.K. abortion law doesn’t apply in Northern Ireland. This is because the 1967 Abortion Act that legalized abortion access across the U.K. was never enforced in Northern Ireland, which instead adopted abortion laws similar to those of the Republic of Ireland. As was the case in Dublin before Saturday’s referendum, Belfast outlaws abortion except in cases where a doctor rules that a pregnancy poses a danger to a woman’s life. In all other cases—including rape, incest, or severe or fatal fetal abnormality—women are not able to access abortion services in Northern Ireland. For that, they would have to do what thousands of Irish and Northern Irish women have done, provided they can afford it: Travel to other countries, including other countries in the U.K., to access abortion services. According to statistics from the U.K.’s Department of Health, 724 women in Northern Ireland traveled to England or Wales for an abortion in 2016.
Penny Mordaunt, a Conservative lawmaker and the U.K.’s international development secretary, praised the Irish referendum result as “a hopeful one for Northern Ireland” that “must be met.” The Labour lawmaker Stella Creasy took it one step further, writing on Monday in The Times of London that the British government should step in to ensure that U.K. abortion law applies to Belfast just as much as it does in Scotland and Wales. At least 160 British lawmakers have backed Creasy’s call.