‘Postcode lottery for abortion services’ one year since law change in NI - Amnesty

Amnesty says a third of the region has been left without early medical abortion services. Credit: PA

The failings of Northern Ireland’s Department of Health are causing abortion provision to breakdown and are putting women in a vulnerable and dangerous position, two local charities say.

On the anniversary of the law on abortion being reformed, Amnesty International and Informing Choices NI say the Health Minister has failed to commission abortion services, leaving local health trusts to provide the service without any extra funding or resourcing.

They say the added pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic has left the trusts struggling to cope.

The Northern Trust recently closed its early medical abortion (EMA) service which has left 10 out of Northern Ireland’s 26 local areas without the service.

Women who live in areas within the Trust - including Antrim, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Ballymena, Ballymoney and Coleraine - were expected to be transferred to other trusts but Amnesty says this is not happening due to a lack of capacity.

While a funded service remains in place in England, travel is neither a safe nor viable option for many due to the pandemic.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said: “The Health Minister’s failings have left women in a vulnerable and dangerous position.

“It’s utterly shameful that a whole year since abortion was decriminalised, the Health Minister has failed to commission services and has completely neglected the needs of both women and our healthcare service. Instead, he has left it to our health trusts and charities to provide these services with zero additional support.

She continued: “Abortion is now legal and no-one in need of the service must be refused. The Health Minister needs to urgently step up and take action, including commissioning full and accessible services and introducing telemedicine.”

Informing Choices NI has been acting as a Central Access Point for the interim services.

Ruairi Rowan, ICNI's Director of Advocacy and Policy said: “The Central Access Point has been a life-line for women and girls experiencing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, but recent developments within the Northern Trust have shown how precarious the interim arrangements are. “Since the new abortion framework was established it has been left up to health trusts and ICNI to absorb the needs of women, but without additional resources we’re seeing the services struggle to cope. “The sustainability of services will always be in question until commissioning takes place. Therefore, we call on the Health Minister to urgently begin the commissioning process, including the use of telemedicine, before the services collapse everywhere.”