Siege days are over: how Northern Ireland came to lead the UK on abortion

The chilling atmosphere of pickets and protests at clinics has given way to a new ‘gold standard’ of care

Rory Carroll,  Ireland correspondent
Thu 21 Mar 2024

The family planning advisers at Shaftesbury Square still remember the days of siege when anti-abortion protesters staked out the front and rear entrance of their office in central Belfast.

Some pickets would splash holy water on the doors and daub salt crosses on the pavement while others would thrust leaflets with pictures of babies and foetuses at woman entering or leaving the building, and sometimes follow them.


Northern Ireland’s Abortion Law: An Outdated Norm or a Necessary Protection?

Mason Walker
 24 Feb 2024

The Conviction of a 21-year-old Woman
In a tragic turn of events, a 21-year-old woman in Northern Ireland has been convicted for terminating her pregnancy using abortion pills. This conviction makes her the first person to be convicted for illegal abortion in at least a decade. The woman pleaded guilty to 'unlawful procurement of miscarriage' under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 and was sentenced to a three-month jail term, suspended for two years.

The Desperate Dilemma of Unwanted Pregnancies

This case brings to the forefront the desperate dilemma faced by women with unwanted pregnancies in Northern Ireland. Legal abortion is limited, forcing many women to resort to dangerous methods such as drinking bleach or throwing themselves down stairs. It is also common for women to travel all the way to England for a termination.


N. Ireland – Blair told Mowlam to put abortion law reform ‘on ice’ 20 years before it was legalised in North

Prime minister’s private secretary wrote that Blair ‘sees little scope for bi-communal support for a change to the law’

Seanín Graham
Thu Dec 28 2023

Twenty years before abortion was legalised in Northern Ireland, British prime minister Tony Blair ordered Northern secretary Mo Mowlam to put her planned review of the restrictive law on terminations “on ice”.

The Downing Street correspondence is contained in previously confidential files released this week in which Blair’s private secretary wrote that the “Prime Minister… sees little scope for bi-communal support for a change to the law and sees little advantage in embarking on a review.”


N. Ireland – Abortion: PSNI investigate safe access zone protest law breaches

18th December 2023
By Elaine McGee, BBC News NI

The police are investigating up to 50 potential breaches of laws providing safe access zones (SAZs) outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland. The zones came into effect in September at eight clinics in Northern Ireland.

More incidents were reported at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine than any other site, police figures show. That has prompted pro-choice campaigners and some local politicians to call for the zones to be extended by up to 250m (820ft).


Abortion Pills Go Global

Regardless of the law, women can now access their own safe and effective abortion procedures in the form of these pills.

November 10, 2023

After Ohio’s recent vote to enshrine the right to have an abortion into the state’s constitution, host Robert Scheer dives deeper into one of the underappreciated and underreported aspects of the fight for abortion rights on this episode of the Scheer Intelligence podcast.

Sydney Calkin, a senior lecturer in the School of Geography at Queen Mary University of London, discusses her newest book, “Abortion Pills Go Global: Reproductive Freedom Across Borders,” and breaks down the myths and misconceptions about one of the biggest tools for bringing women’s reproductive rights to the forefront.


N. Ireland – Abortion: Two arrests under new protest buffer zone law

Oct 4, 2023
By Maria McCann, BBC News NI north-east reporter

Two people have been arrested at an anti-abortion protest outside the Causeway Hospital near Coleraine, County Londonderry.

The man and woman allegedly refused to leave the established safe access zone on Tuesday morning, police said.

New legislation came into effect last week to stop protestors gathering directly outside health settings where abortions take place.


‘This is not the endgame’: abortion clinic buffer zones come into effect in Northern Ireland

‘I’ve been spat on, I’ve been abused,’ says former Green Party leader Clare Bailey, who used to volunteer at a private Belfast clinic

Seanín Graham
Sat Sep 30 2023

On one of Belfast’s busiest streets, Clare Bailey is blinking away tears. Looking up at signage attached to a lamp-post around the corner from an NHS clinic providing abortions, she breaks into a smile. Her daughter, Jude, insists on taking her photograph.

It is seven years since Bailey, a former Northern Ireland Green Party leader and Assembly member, tabled a Private Members’ Bill at Stormont calling for the introduction of so-called buffer zones to prevent anti-abortion protests and harassment outside healthcare facilities offering terminations.


Northern Ireland – Abortion protest buffer zones take effect in NI

Sept 29, 2023
By Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI political correspondent

Anti-abortion protests can no longer be held directly outside specific health clinics in Northern Ireland where abortions are carried out.

New laws creating "safe access zones" stopping protesters from gathering at the buildings have come into effect. The legislation was passed at Stormont in 2022.

It is illegal for people to be "impeded, recorded, influenced or to be caused harassment, alarm or distress" within the areas. It is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £500.


Northern Ireland – Abortion clinic buffer zones to start from Friday

Sept 25, 2023

Exclusion zones set up to block anti-abortion protests outside health clinics in Northern Ireland will be introduced on Friday. The "safe access zones," will be in areas across the five health trusts.

Legislation to set up the zones at clinics where abortions are carried out was passed at Stormont last year. The Department of Health said they are to "protect women and girls accessing abortion services, information, advice and counselling, and protect staff".


Northern Ireland to introduce abortion safe access zones by September

Anti-abortion protests will be banned outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland by September 2023, the Department of Health has said.

5 JUL 2023

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act (Northern Ireland) 2023 was one of the last pieces of legislation approved by MLAs shortly before the Northern Ireland Assembly dissolved at the end of March 2022.

Its enactment was delayed after the bill was referred to the UK Supreme Court by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland amid concerns that it represented a disproportionate interference with the rights of protesters under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).