The government proposes that abortion be available unconditionally up to 12 or 14 weeks gestation.
It proposes that "the gestational time limit in circumstances where the continuance of the pregnancy would cause risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl, or any existing children or her family, greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy" be either 22 or 24 weeks. It notes that abortion under these circumstances is lawful in England and Wales up to 24 weeks, though "with advances in medicine and healthcare, it could be possible that a fetus having reached a gestation of 22 weeks (21 weeks + 6 days) is viable and thus capable of being born alive."
In cases of fetal abnormality, the government is proposing that abortion without time limit be available. It also proposes that abortion without time limit be allowed where there is risk to the life of the mother or it is necessary to provent grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health.
The government proposes that a medical pracitioner or any other registered healthcare professional be able to provide abortions, provided they are appropriately trained and competent to provide treatment in accordance with their professional body's requirements and guidelines.
It is proposed that abortions could be procured in a variety of settings, with the government noting in particular that medical abortions are becoming more common and can be administered at home. It adds that abortions past 22/24 weeks should be provided in hospitals.
While in England, Wales, and Scotland two doctors must certify that there were lawful grounds for abortion, the government is considering whether only one doctor's certification should be required in Northern Ireland, "as it is likely that there will be a more significant number of people raising conscientious objections than in other parts of the UK. This could create practical difficulties, in particular delays in women accessing termination services, if two medical professionals, both with an understanding of the woman or girl's situation, are required to certify the grounds for an abortion."
The government is also proposing that Northern Ireland have a notification process so there can be data to provide transparency around abortion access.
Regarding conscientious objection, the government proposes that it should be allowed for direct participation in the abortion, "but not associated ancillary, administrative or managerial tasks." This is in line with the rest of the UK. It would also compel participation when the abortion is deemed necessary to save the mother's life or to prevent grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health, and another healthcare professional is not immediately available.
The government is asking whether buffer zones should be set up around locations where abortions are procured, barring protest in the locations' immediate vicinity.
The UK will hold a general election Dec. 12, shortly before the public consultation is due to end.
The amendment to the NI EF Act obliging the government to provide for legal abortion in Northern Ireland was introduced by Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who represents a London constituency.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.
In October, the High Court in Belfast had ruled that the region's ban on the abortion of unborn children with fatal abnormalities violated the UK's human rights commitments.
Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.