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Northern Ireland to Legalize Abortion on Demand Up to 12 Weeks

People at the March for Reproductive Freedom protest against the state’s new abortion law in Montgomery, Ala., May 19, 2019. (Michael Spooneybarger/Reuters)

Northern Ireland will soon offer abortions “without conditionality” up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion was decriminalized in Northern Ireland in October of last year, and since then the government has been working on laws to govern legal abortion that are scheduled to take effect soon.

The government document states that the decision not to restrict abortions up to 12 weeks was “in order to avoid building a system that could lead to further trauma for victims of rape or incest or act as a barrier to access for victims of sexual crime.”

The document also cited “global evidence” suggesting that abortion rates do not go up in places where there are few restrictions.

“Introducing a framework which creates barriers to access is unlikely to reduce the rate of terminations, but would rather be likely to lead to women buying abortion pills online, unlawfully, with attendant health risks, rather than accessing safe services,” the document states.

Past 12 weeks, abortions will be legal but restricted in some cases, although permitted at any stage in cases of a fatal fetal abnormality, or risk of death or serious permanent injury to the mother. Abortions will be permitted up to 24 weeks in cases where the pregnancy is considered a greater risk to the mother’s physical or mental health than the abortion would be.

The document also explained that one of the goals of the legislation is to ensure that women seeking abortions do not feel the need to travel to another part of the United Kingdom to obtain the procedure.

The law allows for a “conscientious objection,” which releases a doctor or other medical professional from the obligation to perform abortions if they do not wish to do so.

In May, 2018, neighboring Ireland eliminated the Eighth Amendment, which recognized the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn. Abortion had previously been criminalized in the country.

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