| 14.8°C Belfast

Facilitating abortion during travel restrictions ‘a matter for the Executive’

Abortion has been legalised in Northern Ireland but restrictions around travel are preventing women going to England for terminations.

Close

Strict abortion laws were overturned on March 31 (Niall Carson/PA)

Strict abortion laws were overturned on March 31 (Niall Carson/PA)

Strict abortion laws were overturned on March 31 (Niall Carson/PA)

Northern Ireland’s health minister has said facilitating women in the region to access abortion is a matter for the Executive to decide on.

Strict abortion laws were overturned on March 31 following a change to the law voted in at Westminster last year.

Decisions have not yet been made by Stormont officials on how to put the new legislation into practice in Northern Ireland.

The department of health had intended that women continue to travel to England for terminations, however restrictions on travel due to coronavirus have placed the arrangement into difficulty.

Women in England will be able to have a medical abortion at home using termination pills during the lockdown period.

Robin Swann said options for women in Northern Ireland will be considered by the Executive on Friday.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw quizzed the minister on the matter as he appeared before his department’s Stormont oversight committee on Thursday.

Close

Paula Bradshaw questioned health minister Robin Swann over how women in Northern Ireland can access abortion during travel restrictions (Liam McBurney/PA)

Paula Bradshaw questioned health minister Robin Swann over how women in Northern Ireland can access abortion during travel restrictions (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Paula Bradshaw questioned health minister Robin Swann over how women in Northern Ireland can access abortion during travel restrictions (Liam McBurney/PA)

She said they have heard that two women “have attempted suicide this week”.

Mr Swann responded by saying the question of abortion is a sensitive issue and one not just affecting the Department of Health.

“It is a sensitive issue in Northern Ireland, it’s a cross-cutting issue as well and it’s not one solely for the department of health,” he said.

“There will be a paper presented to the Executive at the meeting tomorrow which will present a number of options as to how we proceed with that.

“So, that paper will be presented for the Executive to discuss tomorrow.”

Ms Bradshaw responded by saying she disagreed with the minister over abortion being a cross-departmental issue.

“I think this rests solely with you, we have already heard there have been two women who have attempted suicide this week, there are 20-30 women each week who travel each week to England for these services, so this is of the utmost importance that you deal with this as a matter of urgency,” she said.

Speaking outside the meeting, TUV leader Jim Allister criticised what he termed a “campaign to liberalise further the abortion laws in Northern Ireland”.

“At a time when the focus should be on saving lives, it is abhorrent and perverse that at today’s meeting of the Health Committee the minister was repeatedly pressed on this issue,” he said.

“It is nothing short of outrageous that tomorrow the executive will be devoting time to a paper on ending the lives of the unborn in homes when the public are being told to stay in their homes in order to preserve life.

“I trust there will be robust opposition to this proposal tomorrow at the Executive by the Health Minister and others round the table, and that the focus will be on saving, not destroying, lives.”

PA