Regulations for abortion services in Northern Ireland have today been laid by the UK Government.
The move comes following a landmark law change last October following a private members bill at Westminster which decriminalised abortion in the region.
However there has been criticism, both by Amnesty International over a gap in provision sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as from anti-abortion campaigners who oppose the services being extended to Northern Ireland.
DUP MP Carla Lockhart described the decision by the Government to lay the regulations today as “contemptible”, claiming it “ignores the devolution settlement and the overwhelming viewpoint of the Northern Ireland people”.
From March 31, the regulations will allow abortion on request for first 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortion up to 24 weeks on grounds of continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl.
Abortion will also be available in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies, with no gestational limit.
Amnesty International has welcomed the regulations, but warned that they will fail to keep women safe during the current health emergency.
Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, expressed concern that the guidelines do not permit women to take both abortion pills at home, during a time when Government advice has been against travel in measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“The Government’s decision not to allow women to self-manage abortions at home during the current health crisis is dangerous and puts women at risk,” she said.
“Travel for this healthcare is neither a safe nor viable option at the moment and Government should be doing what it can to help women in the safety of their home.”
However, anti-abortion campaigners have slammed the regulations as the “wrong course for Northern Ireland”.
Care NI chief executive, Nola Leach, said it was a “deeply sad day” for Northern Ireland, adding there will be “considerable anger” at the framework.
“The fact the Northern Ireland Office is proposing a more liberalised law on abortion than the one currently in place in Great Britain adds insult to injury,” she said.
“The reality is that Westminster should never have acted to override the devolved Assembly on this issue.
"Elected representatives from NI have been ignored and the voices of thousands of individuals have simply been set aside.
“The NIO has also clearly ignored the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who responded to the public consultation on the new framework were completely opposed.
“We understand the magnitude and scale of the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland and beyond.
"We also recognise Assembly members are understandably focusing on this issue at the current time.
“At Care NI, we believe both lives matter and that ultimately, the new abortion services being provision proposed will harm – not help – women and babies.”