Ireland and Northern Ireland

When the 1967 Abortion Act went through Westminster, Northern Ireland had its own parliament, which decided not to take up the issue as, was their right.

So the law in Northern Ireland is the same as it was in Britain before 1967.

The Blair Labour Government, supported by the Family Planning Association, has made repeated attempts to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. These attempts have been strongly resisted by an alliance of four pro-life groups, Catholic and Protestant politicians and churches.

In 2000, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion declaring their opposition to the 1967 Abortion Act. Pro-abortionists seek to have a court judgement 'clarifying' the 1938 Bourne judgement, which can then be extended to Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein, which draws electoral support from the Nationalist community, supports introducing the 1967 Abortion Act. Women seeking abortions travel to Scotland or England.

In the Republic of Ireland, the battle over abortion has been fierce and divisive, reflecting the cultural changes in the past two decades.

Irish pro-lifers have always feared that unelected judges in the courts could wipe out safeguards with a Roe v Wade type decision. They see this as a potential tactic by liberals, frustrated at being unable to move abortion law reform through Parliament.

The trend has been for the issue to be decided by public referendum. In 1983, by a two-to-one margin, a clause was added to the Irish constitution that protects both the life of the child and the mother.

In 1992, there was the infamous 'X-case' which galvanised Irish public opinion. A 14-year old girl was impregnated by a middle-aged man, and she was prevented from travelling to England for an abortion. The case went to the supreme court, which based on the testimony of a psychologist, judged the girl suicidal, that this represented a threat to her life and that under the Constitution she could therefore have an abortion.

The girl miscarried, but the judges' decision had nonetheless legalised abortion in Ireland on psychological grounds. The main reason abortions have not been performed in Ireland is that the Irish Medical Council will strike off their register, any doctor who does so. This firm line against abortion depends on the future make-up of the Council.

In November 1992, as a result of the 'X-case', a three-part referendum was held. Irish voters supported constitutional amendments allowing access to abortion information and the right to travel abroad for the procedure. A third amendment, to prevent a suicidal pregnant woman qualifying for an abortion was defeated.

In March 2002, Ireland's third abortion referendum in 19 years was called by the Fiana Fail government, with the support of the Catholic Church. Its aim was to strengthen and clarify the law against abortion. But during the month-long campaign, the electorate became more and more confused about what the change was designed to achieve.

Confusion reigned within the pro-life movement, with some groups campaigning against the Catholic bishops' position. The main aims of the referendum were to outlaw a woman's threat to suicide as a justification for abortion.

However, the other two proposals, principally on 'implantation' and the morning-after pill, split the pro-life groups and traditionally conservative voters in the rural regions. By a margin of 10,556 votes out of 1.2 million, the amendment was defeated, a victory for abortion law reformers.

Commentators agreed that the result showed the divide between the rural Irish and the increasing liberal vote in the main cities. It was a defeat for the Catholic bishops, their influence weakened by years of revelations about sexual abuse.

Pro-abortion forces believe that sufficient public and political support is there for the supreme court's decision to allow suicidal pregnant women to have abortions to be enacted into law.