Humanists UK and BPAS in call for decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland and around the world at UN Human Rights Council

21 June, 2018

Dr David Harvey (left) at the UNHRC in Geneva

In a statement made jointly with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Humanists UK will intervene at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today to call on the UK Government ‘to act without delay and decriminalise abortion in both Northern Ireland, and England and Wales too.’

The joint statement, being made on behalf of the We Trust Women Coalition, will be delivered by Humanists UK representative Dr David Harvey. It draws attention to the fact that 25% of the world’s population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, noting in particular that in Northern Ireland women cannot access terminations even in the case of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality.

Following the Republic of Ireland’s May referendum, in which voters overwhelmingly supported the repeal of one of the world’s strictest abortion laws, Northern Ireland’s own restrictive legislation is now at odds with the rest of the British Isles. Earlier this month the UK’s Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision finding that Northern Irish legislation surrounding abortion is incompatible with human rights law and that the legislation is ‘untenable’ and needs ‘radical reconsideration’. Following the ruling, campaigners and MPs are calling on the UK Government in Westminster to bring forward legislation to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency, ‘irrespective of whether or when a devolved Northern Ireland Government is restored’. Humanists UK also wants to see abortion removed from criminal law in England and Wales at the same time.

The joint intervention also stresses that whilst the referendum result in the Republic of Ireland, as well as recent progress in Argentina, are to be welcomed, more progress is needed:

‘when women in El Salvador are being imprisoned for miscarriages, when restrictive abortion legislation in Poland is currently being tightened even further, and when three women a day are dying in the Philippines as a result of unsafe abortions, we know we cannot be complacent.’

Dr Harvey concludes his intervention with the following recommendation:

‘We call on all Member States to trust women, to defend their right to autonomy over their own bodies, to guarantee their access to healthcare, and to end the unnecessary suffering and death visited on too many women around the world.’


For more comment and information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on or 0207 324 3065.

Read Humanists UK’s full intervention here: 

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Supreme Court: Northern Ireland abortion law is in breach of human rights’:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion:

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