Ireland’s health minister vowed Tuesday to ensure that women in Northern Ireland will have access to abortion, despite the fact that aborting a baby is illegal in the Republic.
A woman’s right to an abortion “does not stop at the border,” Irish health minister Simon Harris said Tuesday at a festival in West Belfast, The Times reported Wednesday.
As Ireland’s health minister, Harris cannot legally affect a woman’s ability to access abortion in Northern Ireland, but he, like many politicians, is pressuring the legislative body to change Northern Ireland’s laws. More than 170 politicians from Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland wrote an open letter in July demanding that Northern Ireland legalize abortion.
“I intend to ensure women from Northern Ireland can access such services in the Republic, just like they can access other health services here,” Harris said. “Last year at least 919 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England and Wales to access abortion services,” he added, stating that things need to change. (RELATED: Pro-Life Leader: Ireland Repealed The 8th Amendment Because Of ‘Fake-News Storm’)
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Ireland’s former health minister Simon Hamilton also attended the West Belfast festival.
Harris’s statements come after Ireland voted May 26 to legalize abortion by repealing the Eight Amendment, meaning that women in Ireland can now abort their unborn babies up until the third month in pregnancy. Between the third and sixth month of pregnancy, abortions will be permitted only in the presence of fatal abnormalities and where the mother’s life is threatened. (RELATED: Here’s What Abortion In Ireland Will Look Like After The Referendum)
British Prime Minister Theresa May has also been facing mounting pressure to take executive action and legalize abortion in Northern Ireland where it remains illegal. Northern Ireland operates under a different governing body than Ireland, and following a power-sharing debacle that left the government without an executive in January 2017, British officials have assumed authority to make major decisions for the region while its governing body remains uncertain. May has indicated she will not make a decision where the Northern Ireland government should.
Northern Ireland’s elected assembly can choose to align with Britain’s abortion laws that permit women to abort their unborn children until 24 weeks in pregnancy, but the assembly voted against doing so in February 2016, and has not been able to vote again following the government’s collapse in 2017, Reuters reported.
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