The government proposes that a medical practitioner 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.
Abortions past 22 or 24 weeks should be provided in hospitals, the government says.
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. It cited the likelihood of “a more significant number of people raising conscientious objections than in other parts of the U.K.”
The government proposal allows conscientious objection only for direct participation in abortion, but not “associated ancillary, administrative or managerial tasks.” This is the standard exception in other parts of the U.K.
The government’s proposed legislative framework is informed by a UN report based on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The NI EF Act requires that the government implement the report’s recommendations.
The government consultation will close Dec. 16. It includes 15 questions regarding the details of how legal abortion provision should be made in Northern Ireland.
The government intends to published its response to the consultation and details of the action it will take within 12 weeks after Dec. 16.
The NI EF Act act also provides that since Oct. 22, abortion has been decriminalized in Northern Ireland, and a moratorium has been placed on abortion-related criminal prosecutions. Since Oct. 22, the abortion of a child capable of being born alive, except when the purpose is to preserve the life of the mother, remains unlawful.
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 U.K.’s human rights commitments.
The women of Northern Ireland have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.
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The Republic of Ireland legalized abortion by a vote of 66 to 33 percent in a 2018 referendum that removed the pro-life plank from its constitution.