Katherine O'Brien, Associate Director of Communications and Campaigns, said:
"We are delighted to see this consultation document published by the government, which begins the process of developing woman-centred abortion services in Northern Ireland. The government has an opportunity to develop a Northern Irish framework that is evidence-based and firmly rooted in clinical best practice, to fulfil their stated aim of “meeting the needs of women and girls in Northern Ireland”.
"We’re pleased to see a number of positive proposals in the consultation. In particular, the government’s recognition that a wide range of healthcare professionals can safely and effectively provide abortion care is to be welcomed. There is ample clinical evidence that midwives and nurses who are appropriately trained can provide abortion care safely, and this already happens in Norway, Sweden and France. Elsewhere in the UK we are constrained by an outdated criminal framework that precludes midwives’ full participation, but it is heartening to see that Northern Ireland may now be able to adopt world-leading models of care from other decriminalised settings.
"Similarly, we are pleased to see a focus on flexibility when it comes to the locations where abortion procedures can take place. This flexibility will help to ensure that abortion services are fully embedded into existing healthcare settings, for example GP surgeries.
"In terms of access, we also welcome proposals for the introduction of buffer zones to ensure women and staff in Northern Ireland are protected from harassment. We are certain such measures will attract widespread support and we would like to see the same protection afforded to women in England, Wales and Scotland too.
"The consultation document invites views on the abortion time limit in Northern Ireland, with options of 24 weeks – in line with the rest of the UK – or a new limit of 22 weeks. Medical bodies in the UK are very clear that there should be no reduction of the abortion time limit and that the science that informs the current limit has not fundamentally changed. Moreover, there is no contradiction between doing all we can to improve outcomes for extremely premature babies and ensuring that the very small number of women who, often in very desperate circumstances, need to end pregnancies in the final weeks of the second trimester can do so. We are sure that the UK’s medical bodies will make their opposition to a 22-week limit in Northern Ireland clear in their responses to the consultation.
"The consultation closes on 16th December. We look forward to seeing the development of an evidence-based, woman-centred abortion care service in Northern Ireland in 2020."
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The full consultation document is available online here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/a-new-legal-framework-for-abortion-services-in-northern-ireland.
bpas is a charity which sees more than 80,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here: https://www.bpas.org/get-involved/centre-for-reproductive-research-communication/