Northern Ireland is in violation of international human rights standards as a result of its primitive abortion laws. Northern Ireland criminalized abortion in 1861 under the Offenses Against the Person Act, which made procuring an abortion or assisting a woman in doing so potentially punishable by life in prison.  The 1967 Abortion Act legalized abortion in certain circumstances in England, Wales and Scotland, but failed to extend to Northern Ireland, despite the fact that it is part of the United Kingdom.  Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland in almost every circumstance, with minute exceptions if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a serious or permanent risk to her mental health.  As such, in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormalities, women have no local access to abortions and are forced to bear the expense of traveling outside Northern Ireland to access abortion facilities. 
Oftentimes, women are forced to give birth only to watch the child die shortly afterwards due to abnormalities that were detected early on.  Even within the exceptions, there is profound confusion as to when an abortion can be legally performed.  As a result, healthcare professionals, fearing harsh penalties for aiding and abetting a crime, are reluctant to suggest an abortion even in dire circumstances. Recently, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has aggressively challenged Northern Ireland’s abortion laws as a violation of women’s rights under international law.  CEDAW has made it clear that the UK and its Parliament are responsible for changing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, but the UK government has thus far refused to take responsibility, citing Northern Ireland’s devolution settlement, which gives the NI Assembly legislative control over certain matters. 
Krina Patel is a Notes and Articles Editor at the Fordham International Law Journal and a Crowley Scholar at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.
This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.