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  • Northern Ireland has legalized abortion without limits for babies with severe mental or physical impairments.

  • The law comes despite a consultation performed by the Northern Ireland Office that found that 79% of respondents did not support extending abortion access. 

  • It is a “very sad day for Northern Ireland,” said former Northern Ireland minister Arlene Foster.

Northern Ireland will soon enforce new laws stating that no limits will apply on abortions of babies with severe mental or physical impairments, though a consultation performed by the Northern Ireland Office found that 79% of respondents did not support extending abortion access.

The framework, created by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), will allow abortions to take place in Northern Ireland “without conditionality” up until 12 weeks, the BBC reports. There will be no time limit in cases of “fatal foetal abnormality,” according to the publication, or if the baby would suffer from a severe mental or or physical impairment.

If the continuation of a pregnancy would potentially injure the mother’s physical or mental health, a limit of 24 weeks will apply, according to the BBC. The publication notes that the United Kingdom government did not add medication abortion to the framework.

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Only medical professionals will be able to perform abortions under the new legislation, according to the Irish Times.

“I fundamentally reject that Westminster has brought these forward today,” said former Northern Ireland minister Arlene Foster, the Irish Times report. “We have a devolved administration, it should have been a devolved administration that dealt with these issues . . . we will be looking at how we can deal with these issues going forward in the future.”

Foster added that it is a “very sad day for Northern Ireland.”

The new law does allow for the conscientious objections of medical professionals who do not want to participate in abortions.

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“The only exception will be where the participation in treatment is necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman or girl,” the framework says, according to the BBC.

The laws were created after the NIO conducted a public consultation last year which received 21,000 responses, according to the BBC.  Seventy-nine% of these respondents “expressed a view registering their general opposition to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond that which is currently permitted,” the publication reports.

Minister of state to the NIO Robin Walker MP said that despite this strong show of support against extending abortion access in Northern Ireland, “the government remains under a legal obligation to introduce a framework.”

“We have sought to balance the range of views against our legal obligations, and taken pragmatic decisions informed by evidence, in order to bring forward a new legislative framework that will be operationally sound, that works best for Northern Ireland and that delivers on the government’s duty,” Walker said, according to the Irish Times.

The British parliament imposed an amendment on a “routine bill” in July that legalized gay marriage and abortion in October 2019, the New York Times reported. The Republic of Ireland voted to legalize abortion last year.

Northern Ireland’s regional government blocked abortion in 2017 before collapsing, according to the Times, and the British Parliament took advantage of the opportunity to add the amendment legalizing both abortion and same-sex marriage.

Northern Ireland formerly had some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in Europe; Northern Ireland and Poland both banned all abortions except on the basis of health or therapeutic grounds, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Northern Ireland’s abortion laws included the provision of mental health, and Poland’s laws permitted abortion in cases of rape, fetal impairment, incest.

Malta is the only other European country to totally restrict abortion.

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