- The charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, will today launch a telemedical abortion service for women in Northern Ireland up to 10 weeks of pregnancy in partnership with healthcare professionals from Northern Ireland.
- From today, women in Northern Ireland will be able to call a dedicated number 0300 500 8086 to arrange teleconsultations with a doctor in Northern Ireland. Women who are eligible will be sent abortion medication by post so that they do not have to travel to England during the Covid pandemic
- Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland on request up to 12 weeks, but no services have been made available to women as politicians delay commissioning services
- In preposterous and reckless public health announcements, women are being told by the Northern Ireland Office to travel by ferry to England to access help – risking their health on a 2 day journey at a time when everyone is being advised to stay at home to save lives as the UK death toll rises
- Officials have informed BPAS of 2 women attempting suicide because they could not access abortion care in Northern Ireland, and women with serious health conditions needing abortion who cannot leave their homes have been completely abandoned by formal healthcare structures
- Telemedical abortion services are already available to women in England, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland
- The service will be provided under regulation 11(2)(b) of the Northern Ireland regulations which allows clinicians to provide abortion by telemedicine for the purpose of preventing grave, permanent injury to the woman’s physical or mental health.
- This service will be free of charge to women in Northern Ireland. BPAS will meet the costs of treating women as part of its charitable remit.
BPAS today (9th April) launches a service to enable women in Northern Ireland to receive abortion medication by post to prevent grave, permanent injury to the their physical and mental health, in line with the abortion regulations for Northern Ireland published by the UK Government on 25th March. BPAS wrote to the NI Health Minister, Robin Swann, to explain the plight of the women for whom he has responsibility in the current crisis and to offer a free telemedical service on 1st April, but we have received no response from the Minister.
Abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland in October 2019, and a legal framework for the provision of services – including the provision of abortion on request up to 12 weeks - was published on March 25th 2020. However, services have not been made available to women. As a result, women needing an abortion are being told, by the Northern Ireland Office, to travel to England – where services are already reduced as a result of the crisis - to obtain healthcare that could safely be obtained at home, placing these women at a significant increased risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus, completely needlessly.
Due to the lack of flights, women’s only option is to undertake an 8-hour ferry journey to England before further onward travel to a clinic. Effectively, women from Northern Ireland needing abortion services will need to spend around 2 days – including up to 24 hours on public transport – travelling to access care during a pandemic in which every UK citizen is being advised to stay in their homes. Pregnant women have been identified by the UK Government as a particularly vulnerable group who have been told to significantly limit outside activity, including avoiding public transport and accessing healthcare remotely where possible.
The nature, length and risk of the journey today makes it impossible for most women, and particularly the most vulnerable, including young women, those in coercive relationships and women who are ill. BPAS has been informed of 2 suicide attempts by women needing abortion care and we are also aware of women with serious underlying health conditions who cannot leave their homes due to the risk of COVID-19, who have been completely abandoned by the formal healthcare system.
Abortion regulations introduced by the UK government on 25th March allows abortion on request up to 12 weeks and on grounds akin to the 1967 Abortion Act thereafter in Northern Ireland. The regulations allow for the use of the second abortion pill, misoprostol, at home but not the first pill, mifepristone. The same regulations were recently amended in England, Wales and Scotland to allow both pills to be used at home – enabling telemedicine – but the same measure has not been introduced in Northern Ireland.
However, under regulation 11(2)(b) of the Northern Ireland abortion regulations, clinicians are permitted to provide abortion outside of this part of the regulation for the purpose of preventing grave, permanent injury to the woman’s physical or mental health. The telemedical service will be provided to eligible women under this provision in the regulations.
Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said:
“We can no longer stand back and watch this shameful political gameplay with women’s health at a time of national crisis. We will no longer be complicit in Government policy of booking bleeding, vomiting women on interminable ferry journeys, putting their health at serious risk, nor will we abandon women with serious health conditions, when we can ensure they are cared for in the safety of their own home. Working with our phenomenal colleagues from Northern Ireland we will provide a lawful telemedical abortion service to women in need, with access to the same high quality care and support we provide to women in England. We vow we will be here for the women from Northern Ireland for as long as they need us and until their politicians step up and do what’s right.”
Women should call 0300 500 8086 to arrange an appointment
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