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Campaigner – Urgent action needed for abortions during coronavirus outbreak

On Tuesday liberal new rules come into force allowing the procedure in Northern Ireland amid wider restrictions on NHS care linked to the pandemic.

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New abortion laws come into force in Northern Ireland on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA).

New abortion laws come into force in Northern Ireland on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA).

New abortion laws come into force in Northern Ireland on Tuesday (Niall Carson/PA).

Urgent action is needed to enable abortions during the Covid-19 shutdown, campaigners said.

On Tuesday liberal new rules come into force allowing the procedure in Northern Ireland amid wider restrictions on NHS care linked to the pandemic.

Opponents of the change said scarce health service resources should not be diverted from the global crisis.

One woman unsuccessfully seeking a termination had attempted to take her own life, Alliance For Choice campaigner Emma Campbell said.

She added: “We urgently need the approval of telemedicine to allow people to use abortion pills in their own homes, at least during the lockdown.

“This will take the pressure off both the health service and people who need abortions.

“Due to the Covid-19 lockdown the safety net of travelling to England is gone; the option of safe pills bought online is gone; the network of activists helping people have a safe abortion is gone.”

Westminster MPs passed far-reaching changes to abortion last year in the absence of a powersharing Assembly at Stormont.

The regulations will allow terminations on request in Northern Ireland for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 24 weeks in cases of a risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl.

Abortion will also be available in cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies, with no gestational limit.

Ms Campbell said the “dozens a week” who need the procedure are still there despite the outbreak.

She added: “They must be cared for. Otherwise we will likely see more people harming themselves either through attempts to take their own life, or by using dangerous and desperate methods in the hopes of causing a miscarriage.”

The Right To Life organisation said Northern Ireland’s politicians should repeal the new law.

Spokeswoman Catherine Robinson added: “Despite the fact that Stormont has returned and the UK is in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, the UK Government are proceeding with imposing an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland on 31st March 2020.

“To add insult to injury, they have taken what Parliament asked them to impose on Northern Ireland and made it far worse, meaning that Northern Ireland will have one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world, despite 79% of respondents to the consultation being opposed to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond that which is currently permitted.”

Women in England will be able to take two abortion pills at home as a temporary measure to limit the transmission of coronavirus.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said: “Allowing both pills to be taken at home provides the dignity and space to safely end a pregnancy, and must become a permanent healthcare option.

“We urge the same provisions to be extended to other parts of the UK.”

A billboard campaign is being launched against the new regulations.

The “repeal section 9” advertisements are being placed by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc).

PA