NI health department warns of risks of unregulated at-home medical abortion

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Northern Ireland’s Department of Health told a Belfast daily yesterday that women who self-administer medical abortions at home are at risk.

Home administration of medical abortions is not permitted in Northern Ireland.

“Women are at risk if they access unregulated abortion services,” the health department told The News Letter Sept. 25.

“The Department’s view is that services should be properly delivered through direct medical supervision within the health and social care system.”

The News Letter’s Adam Kula had asked the Department of Health about a online course being held Sept. 26 by Alliance for Choice. The course is meant to teach “the process of self-managed abortion with pills, how to look after yourself or help someone else using the medication.”

Northern Ireland law allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother’s physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal fetal abnormality.

Abortions may be performed at General Practitioners premises, and Health and Social Care clinics and hospitals. Medical abortions are permitted up to 10 weeks, and the first medication, mifepristone, must be taken at a clinic.

The region’s Health Minister, Robin Swann, is able to approve further locations for medical abortions. The Press Association reported earlier this year that approval of at-home medical abortions “will require the agreement” of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Home administration of medical abortions has been permitted in Scotland and Wales for some time, and it was approved in England in March.

In April, shortly after the law permitting elective abortion in Northern Ireland came into force, Michelle O’Neill, deputy First Minister and vice president of Sinn Féin, urged that women there be allowed to perform medical abortions at home.

Sinn Féin is an Irish nationalist party that has historically enjoyed significant Catholic support. It supported the liberalization of abortion laws in Northern Ireland imposed by the British parliament, and its party members endorsed the repeal of the Republic of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, which protected unborn children.

In contrast, First Minister Arlene Foster, who is also leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, stated that “The health minister will bring papers forward and we will have discussions, but I don’t think it’s any secret that I don’t believe abortion on demand should be available in Northern Ireland.”

“I think it’s a very retrograde step for our society here in Northern Ireland. Instead of supporting people who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, we’re not even having any discussion around that and how we can support people in those circumstances, how we can provide perinatal care,” Foster added.

At-home medical abortions were discussed by the power-sharing Northern Ireland executive April 6, and the BBC reported that “Stormont sources said it had led to a row between the parties.”

Before March 31, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life was at risk or if there was risk of long term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

In June the House of Lords backed the new abortion regulations for Northern Ireland by an overwhelming majority, and the British Minister of State for Northern Ireland said that while abortion regulation is a devolved issue, any local changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion law would have to comply with human rights conventions.

The Northern Ireland Assembly had shortly before passed a non-binding motion rejecting the imposition of the abortion regulations by the Westminster parliament.

Northern Irish women had been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

The new framework was adopted to implement Westminster’s Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which was passed while the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended.

Northern Ireland rejected the Abortion Act 1967, which legalized abortion in England, Wales, and Scotland; and bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

The amendment to the NI EF Act obliging the government to provide for legal abortion in Northern Ireland was introduced by Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who represents a London constituency.

Source: CNA