The UK violates women's rights in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion, a report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has found.

Denial of abortion and criminalisation of it amounts to discrimination against women because it is a denial of a service that only women need, and it puts them in horrific situations, the committee's vice-chairwoman, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, said in a statement.

The situation in Northern Ireland constitutes violence against women that may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, she said.

The report recommends changing the law to stop criminal charges being brought against women and girls undergoing abortion or against anyone assisting a termination, with a moratorium on the application of existing laws in the interim.

It says abortion should be legal at least in cases of rape or incest, or where a woman's physical or mental health is threatened, or in cases of severe foetal impairment.

Among its other recommendations are ensuring contraception is available, combatting gender-based stereotypes regarding women's primary role as mothers, and protecting women from harassment by anti-abortion campaigners.

In a response to the report, the UK government said it did not accept that women in Northern Ireland had been subject to grave and systematic violations of their rights.

It said that, for years, women from Northern Ireland had travelled to England, Scotland and Wales to access abortions, which was legal, although they had to pay for terminations, which are available for free on the National Health Service for residents of those parts of the UK.

Since June 2017, women from Northern Ireland no longer have to pay for abortions in England, and Scotland and Wales have similar plans to ensure they are not charged, it added.

Northern Ireland does not have its own government since the collapse of the power-sharing administration more than a year ago.

"The Committee's findings and recommendations which focus on changes to the criminal law on abortion cannot be addressed in the absence of a legislature with authority to legislate on such matters in Northern Ireland", the UK government said.

But the report will be brought to the attention of a minister as soon as one was appointed, it added.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is made up of 23 independent human rights experts and oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women by countries that have ratified it.

But it does not have powers of enforcement.