A new legal framework for abortion services in Northern Ireland - Implementation of the legal duty under section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

Closes 16 Dec 2019

Opened 4 Nov 2019

Overview

 

Introduction 

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (NI EF Act) places a legal duty on the UK Government, in the ongoing absence of a restored Northern Ireland Executive, to create a new framework to provide lawful access to abortion services in Northern Ireland by 31 March 2020. 

It is acknowledged that there are a number of areas relevant to the provision of abortion services that are devolved to Northern Ireland, including health and social services. The UK Parliament however, retains the power to make laws for Northern Ireland, although it would not normally do so in respect of devolved matters without the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. 

Section 9 of the NI EF Act, which deals with abortion law in Northern Ireland, came into force on 22 October 2019. Section 9 has two main components: firstly, it provides for decriminalisation of abortion in relation to sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and a moratorium on abortion-related criminal prosecutions from 22 October; secondly, it places the UK Government under a duty to bring forward regulations to introduce a new legal framework for abortion in Northern Ireland by 31 March 2020. The full text of section 9 is set out at Annex A. This new legal framework will be informed by paragraphs 85 and 86 of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Report: Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Section 9(1) of the NI EF Act requires the Government to implement these recommendations, which can be found at Annex B. 

In accordance with this duty, the UK Government is now consulting on a new regulatory framework for lawful access to abortion services in Northern Ireland. The health and safety of women and girls, and clarity and certainty for the medical profession, are at the forefront of the Government’s consideration in developing the new legal framework. 

In developing this consultation document, the UK Government has spoken to Royal Colleges in Northern Ireland, as well as a range of stakeholders. We have also referred to other evidence in the public domain that has set out the case for some type of reform to Northern Ireland’s abortion law, including, but not limited to legal judgments, domestic inquiries, and international reports. 

Recent legal models for abortion reform adopted in other jurisdictions have also been considered in formulating the proposed approach to the new legal framework. We will continue working with the healthcare profession to ensure that the legal provisions can also be accompanied by professional guidance and professional standards of practice to assist healthcare professionals in Northern Ireland to clearly understand their legal rights, obligations and duties. 

About this consultation 

Purpose 

The Government recognises the sensitivities of the issue of access to abortion services, and the strongly held views on all sides of the debate in Northern Ireland. 

The Government equally recognises the need to keep the public informed on such important matters and to allow people the opportunity to comment on the policy proposals for bringing forward a new legal framework for abortion services in Northern Ireland. 

This consultation therefore offers the public the opportunity to share their views on the proposed legislative changes. There are 15 questions in relation to the proposals set out in Section 2. A complete list of questions can be found at Annex D.

Consultation scope 

This consultation covers a proposed new legislative framework for Northern Ireland to deliver on the statutory duty in section 9 of the NI EF Act, and consistent with the recommendations in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the report of the UN CEDAW Report, Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The aim is to provide women and girls in Northern Ireland with access to legal and safe abortion services in accordance with the UN CEDAW Report recommendations. 

While all views will be acknowledged and taken into account, we are particularly interested in responses addressing the specific issues outlined in this consultation. 

The UK Parliament has placed a legal duty on the UK Government to change abortion law in Northern Ireland, so this consultation is not seeking views on whether the Secretary of State should be exercising this duty in the first place, the ethics of the matter of abortion, nor the abortion framework in England, Scotland or Wales. 

Timetable 

This consultation opens on 4 November 2019 and closes at 11:45pm on 16 December 2019. 

The consultation timetable will ensure that a new legal framework can be in place by 31 March 2020. 

Responding to the consultation 

The Government would welcome feedback from anyone with an interest or view on the proposed shape of this reform, addressing the specific questions listed throughout the consultation document and set out in Annex D. 

We would particularly welcome views from those directly impacted by the current law and any proposed changes, including organisations representing those affected by these issues, including healthcare professionals, Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts in Northern Ireland and commissioners, independent sector abortion providers and Royal Colleges. 

Our preferred method of receiving your response is via our electronic consultation questionnaire. You can access this by clicking the link to ‘Respond Online’ at the bottom of this page.

If you provide your response online you can give your answer straight away, pause and return to your response later (as long as you reply within the deadline set) and you needn’t respond to all of the questions to submit your response. You can also submit an annonymous response.

Alternatively, you may complete the response form found alongside this consultation document. If possible, we would prefer this form to be returned to us electronically as an email attachment. The email address for responses or queries is: abortionconsultation@nio.gov.uk 

Postal responses can be sent to: 

Abortion Consultation

Northern Ireland Office

Stormont House

Stormont Estate Belfast

BT4 3SH 

When responding, please state whether you are doing so as an individual or representing the views of an organisation. If you are responding on behalf of an organisation, please make it clear who the organisation represents and, where applicable, how the views of members were assembled. 

A hard copy of this consultation document, and the corresponding response form is available on request, using the email address provided above. 

Consultation principles 

This consultation is being conducted in line with the Cabinet Office consultation principles published in January 2016. A copy of the principles can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/consultation-principles-guidance 

It is also being conducted in line with the Northern Ireland Office Equality Scheme which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nio-equality- scheme. 

An Equality Screening of the impact of the proposals in this consultation is available on the consultation website at www.gov.uk/nio or can be obtained in hardcopy on request. 

Confidentiality 

The information you send us may need to be shared within the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), with other relevant Government departments and relevant Northern Ireland Executive departments. The information might also be published in a summary of responses received and referred to in the published consultation report. 

The Government summary of responses to this consultation and published consultation report will include a list of organisations that responded but not personal names without receiving permission from the individual. Other contact details will not be published. 

All information contained in your response, including personal information, may be subject to publication or disclosure if requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. By providing personal information for the purposes of this public consultation exercise, it is understood that you consent to its possible disclosure and publication. If this is not the case, you should limit any personal information provided, or omit it entirely. If you want the information in your response to the consultation to be kept confidential, you should state so clearly in your response, although this cannot be guaranteed. 

To find out more about the general principles of Freedom of Information and how it is applied in the NIO, please contact: foi@nio.gov.uk 

In some consultations, external analysts may be contracted for the purpose of response analysis. If external analysts are used with this consultation, the NIO may share information you provided in response to the consultation, including personal data, with a third party of contracted external analyst. 

The NIO is the data controller in respect of any personal data that you provide and NIO’s Information Charter, which sets out the standards you can expect in respect of the handling of your personal data, can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/northern-ireland-office/about/personal- information-charter 

Government response 

A summary of responses to this consultation and details of the action that the Government will take, or has taken, will be published on the Government website at www.gov.uk/nio. 

The NIO will aim to publish this information within twelve weeks of the consultation closing date. 

Structure of the consultation 

Section 1 outlines the current legal position in Northern Ireland and sets out the legislative changes due to take effect from 22 October 2019. 

Section 2 sets out the UK Government’s proposals on a new regulatory framework for lawful access to abortion services in Northern Ireland. There are 15 questions in relation to these proposals which respondents may wish to answer. 

Section 3 provides the following supplementary information in relation to this consultation’s proposals: 

● Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 - Section 9 provisions 

● UN CEDAW Report recommendations 

● Legal framework for abortion prior 22 October 2019 

● Consultation questions 

Give Us Your Views

Audiences

  • All stakeholders

Interests

  • Communications