The head of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in Northern Ireland has confirmed that abortion up to birth for “seriously disabled” unborn babies is now legal following the implementation of legislation passed by Westminster MPs last July. 

The regulations drawn up by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) state that “no gestational time limit” would apply to abortion access in cases where the child “would suffer from such physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled”, or where there was a substantial risk that the baby would die before birth.

Director of the RCM Karen Murray said she was “broadly welcoming” of the regulations, telling News Letter that the numbers of abortions after 24 weeks is “miniscule.”

“The reality here is that if we’re performing an abortion because of foetal anomaly, those anomalies are detected usually at the 20 week structural scan…There’s obviously situations where it might happen, but in the vast majority of cases these procedures will be performed before 24 weeks.”

Bernadette Smyth of pro-life group Precious Life called the new regulations “barbaric” however, saying 79% of people who contributed to the UK government’s six week consultation opposed any change to Northern Ireland’s previously restrictive abortion laws.

“We are highlighting what this cruel and extreme law would mean for mothers and babies here – abortion up to the point of birth for disabilities,” Smyth said.

Abortion-on-demand is now legal up to 12 weeks in Northern Ireland, whilst it can also be procured up to 24 weeks if the pregnancy involves any risk of injury to the woman’s physical or mental health.

In addition to allowing abortion up to birth for babies with serious disabilities, abortion will also be permitted up to birth “where necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl, including in cases of immediate necessity”, such as a risk to the woman’s life.