Prior to the NI EF Act abortion was legally permitted in the region only if the mother's life was at risk or if there was risk of long term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.
The British government held a public consultation on a proposed framework for the legal provision of abortion in Northern Ireland in November and December 2019. It proposed that elective abortions be available up to 12 or 14 weeks gestation.
It also proposed 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 proposed that abortion without time limit be available. It also proposed 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.
Lockhart responded to the proposed framework saying that "it is incomprehensible that the Government, knowing that abortion was a devolved matter, has published consultation proposals to introduce changes which go far beyond what has actually been required by Parliament."
She charged that "in Northern Ireland, abortion on request for any reason will be legalised to the point at which a baby is 'capable of being born alive'.
"It is my understanding that no consultation will take place on the legislative text of the regulations," Lockhart said. "With regard to abortion, it is well known that the detail of the text is crucial."
She asked that MPs, at least, be consulted before the specific text of the regulations is drafted.
"If the Government wants to maintain any commitment to devolution, I would implore them to rethink their coach-and-horses approach to a life-and-death piece of legislation," Lockhart concluded.
Following the Upper Bann MP's speech, Catherine Robinson, a Right To Life UK spokesperson, commented: "We share in Ms Lockhart's disappointment and frustration concerning the imposition of extreme abortion laws in Northern Ireland by a Government who claims to support the devolution settlement."
"We will support Carla and other MPs in their efforts to hold the Government to account on their words in regard to devolution, as doing so will help protect the lives of unborn babies in Northern Ireland," Robinson added.
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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.
In October 2019, 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.