Emergency telemedical abortion service launched for women* in Northern Ireland

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.

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BPAS today (April 9) launches services to enable women* in Northern Ireland to receive abortion medication by post to prevent grave, permanent injury to their physical and mental health.

This is in line with the abortion regulations for Northern Ireland published by the UK Government on March 25.

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 25 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 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 make 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 March 25 allow 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* 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-19 pandemic

*People who are pregnant

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