New human rights report calls for a change to 'outdated' Northern Ireland abortion laws
The Department of Justice is being urged to introduce legislation here to end the criminalisation of women and girls seeking an abortion.
The call comes in a new report today by the NI Human Rights Commission that finds the province is failing to keep pace with the rest of the United Kingdom and Ireland on key human rights provisions.
One of the report's recommendations is that the Department of Health should act in line with international human rights standards by ensuring that women and girls have access to abortion in at least circumstances of a threat to physical or mental health, serious foetal abnormality, and rape or incest.
Abortion is currently illegal here in all but the most extreme cases, and on average 28 women a week travel to England for terminations.
Campaigns for new legislation to be introduced have ramped up following the successful abortion referendum in the Republic in May.
Meanwhile, last month an amendment to a Bill by two Labour MPs calling on the Secretary of State to issue guidance on abortion law here was passed in the House of Commons.
In the report, the NI Human Rights Commission calls for a review of the current guidance from the Department of Health to ensure it provides sufficient direction for health professionals to offer abortions within the current legal framework.
The Commission recommends that appropriate information is provided to women and girls in respect of their options relating to sexual and reproductive health.
This includes the current pathway available in the rest of the UK to access a lawful termination of pregnancy.
The Executive Office and PSNI are also urged to ensure that women here can access family planning services without intimidation, including imposing a buffer zone outside the relevant clinics.
The Commission assessed developments affecting human rights protections in Northern Ireland throughout 2018.
It sets out 12 'red' issues which may be an ongoing violation or abuse of human rights that require immediate action by the UK Government, the Executive or other relevant public authorities.
Chief human rights commissioner Les Allamby said: "The outstanding issues are profound: including the need to reform the law on access to termination of pregnancy; deal effectively with the past, including outstanding investigations and legacy inquests; tackle child sexual exploitation; address the issues of children going missing from care; and the continued absence of a strategy to reduce poverty, despite this being declared unlawful in the High Court three years ago.
"The stark implications of the (political) impasse are laid bare and throws into sharp relief the need to restore the NI Executive and Assembly as soon as practicable."