Monday, May 23

UK Ministers Facing Legal Action Over Lack of Abortion Services in Northern Ireland | Abortion

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) has launched a landmark legal action against the UK government for failing to commission safe and accessible abortion services more than a year after abortion was legalized in the country, it may reveal The Guardian.

Northern Ireland’s secretary, Brandon Lewis, is accused of illegally denying the rights of women in the country, who experts warn are being forced to use unregulated services and travel to high-risk areas during the pandemic. The NIHRC is also taking action against the Northern Ireland Executive and the country’s Department of Health.

The situation for women seeking an abortion could worsen considerably in 2021, as doctors who formed an ad-hoc early abortion service in the early days of the pandemic warned that the unfunded service is on the brink of collapse as the small number of health professionals running it returns to their pre-pandemic functions.

One of the five Northern Ireland trusts, the South East Trust, currently has no early medical abortion (EMA) service after a doctor went on maternity leave. Another, the Northern Trust, ceased all services in October due to lack of resources, but resumed on January 4. While it was closed, other trusts were not accepting referrals due to lack of capacity, leaving women with no choice but to travel for an abortion or order abortion pills online and take them unsupervised.

Les Allamby, the head of the NIHRC, said the body was taking legal action after the Secretary of State, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department of Health refused to take responsibility for the creation of services.

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“We have entered a Kafkaesque world where the NIO [Northern Ireland Office] states that it is taking all reasonable steps to enable a service, the Health Department states that it cannot obtain an agreement to commission and fund a service through the NI Executive and the NI Executive says it is a matter of the Department of Health “, said. “It is a game of ‘passing the pack’ where the music never stops, except that it is not a game but a question of women’s health and well-being. Additionally, forcing women to travel raises broader public health problems. “

Abortion was made legal in Northern Ireland last October after a Westminster vote led by Labor MP Stella Creasy took advantage of a crippled Stormont, despite a last-minute attempt by the region’s assembly to block change. Officials confirmed that the firing could take place in April after the threat of legal action by pro-abortion activists.

But Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, has said that contracting services is a “controversial issue” and should be referred to the country’s executive committee.

Creasy, whose amendment paved the way for the change in the law, said the blame for the fact that women are still forced to travel to England to access abortion or order abortion pills online rests “directly with the secretary of been “, who before this month said he was “proud” the UK government had granted the right to abortion.

“Those whose rights are being denied are rightly asking why Brandon Lewis will not accept a hard border in the Irish Sea when it comes to goods and services, but will do so with women’s rights,” she said.

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As a result of the deadlock, the trusts have established unfunded services run by a group of fewer than a dozen committed doctors, the Guardian understands. Between April and the end of November 2020 facilitated 719 completions, compared to just eight the year before, according to DoH figures.

Dr. Laura McLaughlin, a consulting obstetrician and gynecologist at Doctors for Choice NI who works with a single nurse to provide the service in her confidence, said the system was unsustainable and she feared she would not be replaced when she soon took maternity leave. “The fact that we have a service is due 100% to the hard work of the doctors, their great commitment, dedication and desire to help women,” she said. “We feel very isolated, exhausted, and ultimately really disappointed.”

Another doctor who was providing the service without help in a different trust had taken two days of annual leave since the pandemic began so that the service would not stop.

“Women’s health care should not depend on their location or ability to board a plane,” said Ruairi Rowan, director of advocacy and policy for Informing Choices NI (ICNI), which directs all calls from women seeking an abortion to relevant services. “Traveling carries a stigma. It adds to the secrecy and can take away your privacy. “

Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland up to 12 weeks (compared to 24 weeks in England), but four of the five trusts only provide abortion pills up to 10 weeks, and none between 10 and 12 weeks. Abortion up to 24 weeks is legal if a woman’s physical or mental health is at risk, and to term if there is a threat to life, but surgical abortions are not currently being performed.

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Women most likely to need subsequent abortions are the most vulnerable, young women or those in abusive relationships for whom travel may be impossible, said Goretti Horgan, a professor of social policy at the University of Ulster and a long-time pro-abortion activist. long time.

“Women here no longer have to fear being criminalized, and that is a breakthrough,” she said. “But for women who are watched all the time, who are under coercive control, they have very few options.”

A UK government spokesperson said the health and safety of women accessing abortion remains “paramount”. The government would continue to collaborate with the Northern Ireland Department of Health to commission “full abortion services, in accordance with the regulations that we made, as soon as possible,” they added.

A spokesperson for the DoH said it had “reported that [it] It is not obliged to order the corresponding services ”. When asked by the Guardian if there were plans to commission services in 2021, the department said that any matter that was “significant or controversial” should be presented to the executive and, since the proposals were still under consideration, “it was not possible at this time to give a deadline for the introduction of a fully commissioned abortion service ”.

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