Feminist institutionalism is concerned with the ‘rules of the game’ in political institutions. It is interested to explore how institutions create gender-just conditions in terms of the policies and actions they undertake and the make-up of the elected representatives they contain. It also has a growing interest in how institutions can resist or obstruct positive gendered change. It is argued here that employing the concept of ‘critical actors’ alongside a feminist institutionalist framework can further our understanding of why some institutions resist change. Using the example of abortion legislation in Northern Ireland, this article illustrates how the literatures on feminist institutionalism and critical actors can, when combined, help to build a fuller narrative of why gendered policy change does not happen.