Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

It has been confirmed that Medical staff in Northern Ireland have been told they will not face prosecution if they refer women to clinics in England and Wales for abortions. This development, according to campaigners, as reported by the Guardian Post, will ease the climate of fear under which many have been operating.

Until now, Reuters disclosed that the threat of prosecution has made many medical professionals feel constrained in the advice they give women seeking abortions elsewhere. According to practice, Abortion generally and in particular Northern Ireland is permitted only in very restricted circumstances, and Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for illegal abortion in Europe – life imprisonment for the woman undergoing the abortion and for anyone assisting her.

Although the government ruled this year that it would fund the medical costs of women from Northern Ireland who travel to England for an abortion, GPs in Northern Ireland were concerned that they were unable to discuss making referrals without exposing themselves to the risk of prosecution.

Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland office, received the response from the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service in response to a letter requesting clarification of the law. She welcomed the development, but said the Department of Health in Northern Ireland needed to revise its guidance to make the situation less confusing, Reuters stated.

“The threat of prosecution has long loomed over medical professionals in Northern Ireland, who have previously felt unable to refer women to other parts of the UK for abortion services for fear of criminal prosecution. This has acted as a significant barrier for women seeking to access abortion,” she said.

“The Public Prosecution Service has now stated clearly they can see no risk of criminal prosecution in these circumstances. This is hugely important and should relieve the profession of this chilling threat. This is a significant breakthrough in the fight for abortion rights here.”

Breedagh Hughes, NI director of the Royal College of Midwives, also welcomed the clarification, expressing relief as medics can now be safe to make referrals without fright. “Midwives have been operating in a climate of fear of prosecution. Women in Northern Ireland have not been getting the care and referrals to services in the UK that they really need because of this threat which we now know does not exist,” she said.

“Healthcare professionals will now be able to refer women to the rest of the UK for abortion services, confident that they will not face prosecution. This will enable us to look after women who seek or need abortion services.”











Correspondent: Ridwan A Olayiwola


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