BHA urges Northern Irish Health Minister to adopt progressive stance to abortion rights

8 October, 2014

In recent comments made to BBC News, the new Health Minister for Northern Ireland, Jim Wells, has stated his firm belief that his religion should influence his views in the Northern Irish Assembly, particularly in relation to abortion rights for women. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has objected in the strongest possible terms, and has urged the Health Minister to take urgent action on ensuring women in Northern Ireland have the same basic health rights as women in the rest of the UK.

When asked if his personal views would influence his policymaking, Wells stated: ‘I’m not one of these people who leaves their personal views at the door of the Assembly… I believe protecting the unborn child, supporting the concept of marriage, [and] that things like that are the best for society as well as my own personal views… and [I will] not abandon principles that I and so many others in this province hold dear.’

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, but on many issues its devolved government has the power to vote on which UK laws it adopts within its boundaries. It has continually failed to adopt the 1967 Abortion Act, which in practice allows a woman in the England, Wales, and Scotland to have a safe and legal abortion should she need one. In Northern Ireland, an abortion is legal only if a woman’s life is in danger or there is a serious risk of damage to her health.

A High Court judge recently ruled that due to the devolution of healthcare matters in Northern Ireland, women there were not legally entitled to abortion-related services on the NHS in England. As a result of the strict legislation there, pregnant women in Northern Ireland seeking termination for whatever reason face serious crisis and may feel pressured into unsafe practices.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘It is both disappointing and disturbing that the minister is so opposed to the reproductive health rights of women, particularly against a backdrop of the attacks against women’s basic rights across parts of Europe. This is an area where the BHA alongside its partner, the European Humanist Federation (EHF), will continue to challenge the influence of religious campaigners and policymakers who wish to restrict woman’s reproductive and sexual health rights on religious grounds.’


For further information or contact BHA Head of Public Affairs and EHF Vice Chair Pavan Dhaliwal on or 0773 843 5059.

Read about our interventions on violence against women at UN Human Rights Council:

Read about the BHA and EHF’s role in defeating an anti-choice European Citizens’ Initiative:

Read our recent calls to lawmakers to accommodate Northern Irish women’s reproductive and sexual health needs:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.