Report Calls for Change to NI Abortion Law


A working group has recommended a change to Northern Ireland’s laws to allow abortion in cases of so-called “fatal foetal abnormality”. In a report commissioned in 2016 by the then health and justice ministers in Northern Ireland, the group supports abortion where “the abnormality is of such a nature as to be likely to cause death before, during or in the early period after birth.”


The working group was first proposed in February 2016, when the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against allowing abortion under such circumstances. The commissioned report was expected to inform the Stormont Executive's policy, but Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since power sharing broke down in January 2017.


Usually, publication of such reports would be a matter for ministers but, in the absence of a government, the departments of justice and health have decided to release the report “on public interest grounds”. The decision to publish the report in advance of the referendum in the Republic raises the question whether officials in Northern Ireland are attempting to influence voters here.


Although the term is not medically recognised, the report states that “fatal foetal abnormality” is “an acceptable description of a diagnosis made, usually around 20 weeks gestation, of a foetal abnormality which will result in death in utero, at birth or shortly after birth.”


Among the claims made by the report are:

-      If a fatal foetal abnormality is diagnosed, continuing with the pregnancy “poses a substantial risk of serious, adverse effect on a woman’s health and wellbeing”

-      Health professionals have said that retaining current laws would “place an unacceptable burden on women’s health and wellbeing”


The report acknowledged that improvements can be made to the care and support of women whose babies are diagnosed with a “fatal foetal abnormality”.


Marion Woods, of the pro-life group Life, described the report as “inherently misleading and offensive to the many families who, with support, have risen to the challenge and cared for their baby with life-limiting conditions”. She added that “babies who are deemed by doctors to be ‘likely to die’ can, and do, defy the odds and may outlive the diagnosed life expectancy”.

BBC. April 25. Family & Life. April 26. NI Dept of Justice. April 25.

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