Paula Bradshaw MLA has called on the Health Minister to provide immediate clarification on alternative arrangements for women in Northern Ireland to be able to access abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mrs Bradshaw said given the “long-standing taboo around abortion” here, in addition to current restrictions on travel due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Health’s assertion women from Northern Ireland could continue to use abortion services in England was “without credibility”.
“The Minister has to move quickly. We know between 20-30 women travel to England every week to access services. However, we are now into the second week of lockdown and so we can multiply this up to a large number of women who are sitting at home, facing a crisis pregnancy, with no options available to them at this moment in time.
“I have written to him to confirm the solutions are there. Belfast Trust has the capacity for ramping up preparations for a temporary early medical abortion service in its Sexual Reproductive Health Unit, with similar arrangements possible within the Northern and Western Trust areas as well. Booking could be made online via an already-existing structure. These Trust services just need to be signed off by the Minister. Once this direction is given, the services could be fully operational within weeks.
“Alternatively, as they have introduced in England, telemedicine could be brought in there. This will put less pressure on our health service, at this critical time and allow for women to deal directly with a GP and take pills at home.
“It is not fair women can be so disadvantaged and forced to continue with a crisis pregnancy when alternative arrangements could be introduced if the will was there from the Health Minister. Today is March 31, the date when the legislation provided for safe access to abortion services here in Northern Ireland – the Minister is now under a duty to adhere to these obligations.”