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New abortion regulations come into effect in Northern Ireland

Abortion  •  31 March 2020  • 5 min read

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London, Tuesday 31st March 2020

Today, the new abortion regulations for Northern Ireland have come into effect – they allow abortions in all circumstances up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and also allow for abortions up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, if there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman or girl.

However, it will be up to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Department of Health to commission abortion services, meaning abortion care will not be readily available in Northern Ireland until services are put into place.

What happened in October 2019? Abortion

Decriminalisation

In October 2019, abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland with the requirement that the UK Government must bring about new regulations for abortion care in the country by 31st March 2020. The decriminalisation and promised regulations meant that soon many women will be able to access services in their own country that had not been able to due to the draconian, Victorian era abortion law. This meant that women and girls could, for the first time, have an abortion without any fear of criminality, and any ongoing prosecutions were stopped.

Today, the new abortion regulations for Northern Ireland have come into effect – they allow abortions in all circumstances up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and also allow for abortions up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, if there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman or girl. There is no time limit for if an abortion is needed to save the life of a woman, or if there has been a diagnosis of fatal fetal abnormality or severe fetal impairment.

The regulations also outline that abortions can be carried out in GP premises, clinics provided by a health and social care trust and HSC hospitals. The home use of the second medication used in an early medical abortion has also been approved.

What happens now?

However, it will be up to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Department of Health to commission abortion services, meaning abortion care will not be readily available in Northern Ireland until services are put into place.

Women from Northern Ireland will still be able to access care in England until the UK government is “confident that service provision in Northern Ireland is available to meet women’s needs”.

Travelling to England during Covid-19

However, with travel to England restricted due to the COVID-19 crisis, we know this means that travelling is not a safe or viable option, and women in Northern Ireland will be left without any access to abortion care.

Whilst our clinics are still providing care to women from Northern Ireland where possible, we have called on policy makers to allow women in Northern Ireland to take both sets of early medical abortion pills at homeas is now the case in England.

Richard Bentley, Managing Director of Marie Stopes UK said:

“We are extremely pleased to see the long-awaited legal framework for accessing abortion care in Northern Ireland – for too long, women in the region have been treated as second class citizens and this day would not have arrived were it not for brave and resilient abortion reform campaigners.

“However, while the legal framework is a significant step in the right direction, abortion care cannot be delivered without services in place, and with travel to Marie Stopes’ clinics in England restricted due to the COVID-19 crisis, thousands of women and girls will be held in limbo, forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy or to buy abortion pills illegally online.

“We now ask that policy makers act on science, evidence and expert clinical advice to limit the spread of COVID-19 and allow women in Northern Ireland to take both sets of early medical abortion pills at home, as is now the case in England.

“We are also disappointed that the framework does not include safe access zones to protect women seeking abortion care from harassment outside of clinics,  as we know from our experience of providing care in Belfast, that aggressive anti-choice groups relentlessly target both women and providers and will most likely continue to so while they remain unprotected.”

Raise your voice: ask the Health Minister to take action

Our friends and colleagues at Alliance for Choice launched a petition to allow Remote Abortion Provision in NorthernIreland.

This petition is to the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Robin Swann, to ask that they allow home use of abortion pills for women in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 crisis, in recognition that women and pregnant people cannot travel to England for care.

https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/allow-remote-abortion-provision-in-ni


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