FSRH and RCOG press statement: FSRH and RCOG applaud historic vote to reform abortion law in Northern Ireland

Posted 18 July 2019

Date: 18 Jul 2019

Type: FSRH Press Releases and Statements

Today the UK Parliament voted to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) strongly welcome the result of the vote, which shows majority of Parliament supports the right of women resident in Northern Ireland to have equal access to abortion care as the rest of the UK.

The amendments passed in the House of Lords today require the Government to decriminalise abortion care in Northern Ireland in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive. They oblige the Government to implement the recommendations laid by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), who concluded last year that abortion law in Northern Ireland breached UK citizens’ human rights in a “grave and systematic” manner and called on Government to repeal section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA).

Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:

“We are absolutely delighted that Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to support the fundamental rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland to access abortion services.

“This is a truly historic day for women’s rights in Northern Ireland – a country which has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world – and will pave the way toward decriminalisation of abortion.

“The UK has finally addressed the historic wrong that has deprived the women and girls of Northern Ireland access to safe compassionate healthcare.

“It is now essential that the ambitions of this Act are implemented as soon as possible so healthcare professionals can provide abortion services – an essential aspect of women’s health, without any fear of prosecution.

“We will work with the government and partner organisations so that women can access these services in March 2020.” 

Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:

“The vote in Parliament today is a milestone to secure women’s reproductive health and rights in the UK.

“Because of an outdated legislative framework, hundreds of women resident in Northern Ireland have to endure long journeys to other parts of the UK, sometimes in pain, to access abortion care. Others resort to illegal purchase of abortion medication, risking life imprisonment.

“There is evidence that the law in Northern Ireland conflicts with doctors’ duty of care and confidentiality towards their patients. Healthcare professionals in Northern Ireland fear criminal sanctions, and this hampers them providing information and making referrals, meaning that care is sub-optimal care and women may be put at risk. 

“This situation is untenable, and the vote in Parliament today has the power to change that. It is imperative that this is implemented without delay.”



  • The amendments voted by the House of Lords today had been agreed between the Government and Stella Creasy MP, mover of the original amendment in the House of Commons, to enable the Government to reform the law effectively. The House of Commons passed the original measures last week by 323 votes to 99. You can see progress of the Bill here and more information on the Bill here.
  • In a recent inquiry into abortion law in Northern Ireland, the Women and Equalities Committee heard evidence that the law conflicts with doctors’ duty of care and confidentiality towards their patients. You can find the full report here.
  •  In September 2017, the RCOG voted strongly in favour of supporting the removal of criminal sanctions associated with abortion in the UK
  • In November 2017, the FSRH Council voted unanimously to pass a new position statement calling for the decriminalisation of abortion care in the UK. This has been informed by the results of a consultation with the FSRH membership in October 2017 and has been reached following in depth discussions. It can be read here.
  • The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high-quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision. www.rcog.org.uk
  •  The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is the largest UK professional membership organisation working at the heart of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), supporting healthcare professionals to deliver high quality care. It works with its 15,000 members, to shape sexual reproductive health for all. It produces evidence-based clinical guidance, standards, training, qualifications and research into SRH. It also delivers conferences and publishes the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health in partnership with the BMJ.

For further information please contact:

Camila Azevedo
FSRH External Affairs & Standards Manager
Email: externalaffairsmanager@fsrh.org
Telephone: 02037945309