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Figures show 664 terminations in Northern Ireland since change in abortion law

Recent reform of NI regulations remains divisive

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More than 600 medical abortions have been carried out in Northern Ireland since new laws came into force earlier this year. (Lynne Cameron/PA)

More than 600 medical abortions have been carried out in Northern Ireland since new laws came into force earlier this year. (Lynne Cameron/PA)

PA

More than 600 medical abortions have been carried out in Northern Ireland since new laws came into force earlier this year. (Lynne Cameron/PA)

More than 600 medical abortions have been carried out in Northern Ireland since new laws came into force earlier this year.

In total, 664 terminations have taken place since March 31, according to official figures.

Our abortion laws were reformed after a landmark vote in Westminster last year during the suspension of the Stormont Assembly.

The new regulations allow for terminations in any circumstance up to 12 weeks.

Up to 24 weeks, terminations are allowed where the risk of mental or physical injury to the expectant mother is greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy.

The law also allows abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, or when there is a risk of death or serious permanent injury to the mother if a termination is not carried out.

The reform of legislation has been controversial, with Stormont MLAs voting in June to reject the recent changes, following a DUP motion.

However, this vote held no legal weighting - it merely showed a lack of support amongst the Assembly for the new legislation.

Pro-life group Precious Life reacted angrily to the latest figures, provided by the Department of Health.

Director Bernadette Smyth hit out at politicians, saying it our abortion laws did not square with pledges to protect and save the most vulnerable in society during the coronavirus pandemic.

She added: "At a time when necessary and life-saving care such as cancer treatments, and screenings for breast cancer are being postponed to preserve hospital equipment, beds and staff, it is all the more outrageous that abortion has been making a priority for women In Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, pro-choice campaigners such as Emma Campbell, the co-convenor for the Belfast branch of Alliance for Choice, tentatively welcomed the figures, but said more needed to be done to support women.

"It's absolutely brilliant that these women have had access to abortions on these islands," she said.

"But, every other jurisdiction in the UK and Ireland now all provide full tele-medicine services for people needing abortions.

"Northern Ireland is the only place in the island which is refusing to do.

"People are being made to travel to clinics in the height of a pandemic which is completely unnecessary and puts these patients and staff at further risk of contracting Covid-19.

"Not one of these 664 people should have had to go into a clinic during the height of a pandemic."

Emma, and other pro-choice campaigners, are also concerned that abortion services are not still accessible enough in Northern Ireland.

"The Department of Health have refused to carry out their legal duties of commissioning services and providing public health information," she said.

"There is no way for you to find out how to get a legal abortion on any of the Department of Health or Health Trust websites," she added, saying that GPs and health staff have not been adequately trained.

"The whole legislation is being treated as a waste of paper."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The Department of Health has publicly stated that it has received legal advice that, under the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No 2) Regulations 2020 the department is not required to commission the relevant services, however registered medical professionals in Northern Ireland may now terminate pregnancies lawfully.

"The regulations require such terminations to be carried out on Health and Social Care premises. This advice was communicated to Trusts in April.

"Decisions remain to be taken on the commissioning of abortion services in NI's health service. Commissioning is a significant process that will require a public consultation.

"It will clearly be matter for the Executive and Assembly as well as the department."

Belfast Telegraph