Technically legal in Northern Ireland, abortions are still unobtainable

LONDON — A week after abortion was supposed to become freely available in Northern Ireland, women continue to be denied access to services and are instead enduring an eight-hour ferry ride to Liverpool, England, despite the coronavirus lockdown.

The collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved government in 2017 allowed the British Parliament to step in last year and overturn the region’s highly restrictive 158-year-old abortion laws, ruling that they were incompatible with the United Kingdom’s human rights commitments.

But even though the new laws went into effect March 31, the regional power-sharing government, restored in January, is locked in a debate about how to roll out the new services. Many people suspect that the health minister is slow-walking the process, hoping to stymie it altogether.


Northern Ireland’s regional government is led by Sinn Fein, which supports the new abortion legislation, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which ardently opposes abortion in all cases.

Abortion is one of the most contentious political issues in Northern Ireland, and many commentators believe the Department of Health is stalling the process out of ideological objections.