Abortion services have been cut in over a third of local areas in Northern Ireland due to a lack of resources.
It comes after the Department of Health failed to fund and commission abortion services in Northern Ireland. Amnesty International and Informing Choices NI, a reproductive health charity, said they were aware that the Northern Health and Social Care Trust had stopped accepting referrals for early medical abortion services from 5pm yesterday.
The trust had been funding abortion services itself for more than six months, and in a statement it said that it “does not currently have the resource to continue to provide the service”.
The Northern Health and Social Care Trust is one of Northern Ireland’s six Trusts. It covers Coleraine, Moyle, Larne, Antrim, Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, Ballymoney, Ballymena, Magherafelt and Cookstown.
It means that women living in 10 of Northern Ireland’s 26 local areas will not be able to access early abortion services locally, and will have to travel to another healthcare trust which is still providing the procedure.
New abortion regulations in Northern Ireland came into effect from March, after the UK government passed a law forcing the region to decriminalise abortion on human rights grounds.
Like the Republic, abortion is now legal in Northern Ireland for all women up to 12 weeks’ gestation. Beyond that, it is available in specific cases only — including when the life and health of the woman is at risk. Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has said that the UK law regulating abortion in Northern Ireland did not require the Executive to commission abortion services.
Since April, trusts have been providing abortion services themselves through their own resources. Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s NI campaigns manager, said that the decision to suspend services was “a direct consequence of the sheer neglect and disastrous failings of the Department of Health”.
In a statement, the Northern Trust said that funding abortion services itself since April had been possible “due to the downturn of services in other areas” but added that it “does not currently have the resource to continue to provide the service.”
It said all healthcare trusts “will be discussing the current arrangements with the Department of Health in the coming days”.