British Politics

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 371–388 | Cite as

Explaining gender equality difference in a devolved system: The case of abortion law in Northern Ireland

  • Jennifer Thomson
Forward Thinking


Northern Ireland is the only region of the United Kingdom (UK) in which the Abortion Act of 1967 does not apply. Since the Abortion Act, little action has been taken from national government to address this discrepancy in the province. Furthermore, as the constitutional makeup of the UK has evolved in the wake of devolution, Northern Irish exceptionalism with regard to abortion has only increased. While abortion legislation was retained at Westminster for Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland was allowed to remain exempt from the 1967 Act and to legislate on termination of pregnancy at the devolved level. Working within a feminist institutionalist framework, this article asks why this remains the case and considers Northern Ireland’s limited place in national political discussion at Westminster since devolution. As such, it draws on and contributes to the developing literature on gender, devolution and multi-level governance. It argues that abortion in Northern Ireland has largely been understood at Westminster as a regional, devolved issue rather than an issue of women’s rights, and that the multiple political spaces now offered via devolution have not provided a greater number of venues for the promotion of more liberal abortion laws.


Northern Ireland Westminster devolution gender abortion 



This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/J500124/1].


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary, University of LondonLondonUK

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