Belfast Telegraph

I'd quit my job if I had to assist in an abortion, says Northern Ireland midwife

A letter signed by 815 doctors, nurses and midwives was sent to Secretary of State Julian Smith and Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary for the Department of Health
A letter signed by 815 doctors, nurses and midwives was sent to Secretary of State Julian Smith and Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary for the Department of Health
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A midwife has said she would walk away from the profession if she was forced to either perform or assist an abortion after the liberalisation of the law in Northern Ireland next month.

She was speaking after a letter signed by 815 doctors, nurses and midwives was sent to Secretary of State Julian Smith and Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary for the Department of Health, expressing opposition to any change of legislation here.

Carrickfergus GP Dr Andrew Cupples also warned of a mass exodus of healthcare professionals if they had to assist in a pregnancy termination.

Some of those who signed the letter include registered nurses, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and general surgeons.

Midwife Debbie Marshall
Midwife Debbie Marshall

They say their consciences will not allow them to stay silent on the issue.

Restrictions on abortion in Northern Ireland will be drastically reduced unless the Stormont Assembly is restored by October 21.

The health professionals are seeking reassurance as "conscientious objectors" that they will not have to perform or assist abortions.

In July, MPs passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, placing a duty on the Government to provide access to abortion in Northern Ireland. Regulations will be required to be in place by the end of March 2020.

Northern Ireland midwife Debbie Marshall said she would leave the profession she loves if she had to assist in an abortion, but trusts that systems will be put in place to prevent that.

"You could be faced with the scenario of being very short staffed and you're the only person available to take part [in an abortion]," she said.

"I'm not sure how that would play out at the moment. I personally would not be happy to be involved and someone would have to figure something else out.

"I do trust they will figure out some sort of conscientious objection where we will be happy to be able to say no without feeling under pressure."

Dr Cupples stated that those who signed yesterday's letter feel the change in Northern Ireland's abortion laws are being forced upon them without "proper protections".

Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International
Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International

"We are appealing to the political parties to sit down and initiate democratic government in our country so that this anti-democratic move will no longer be put through," he stated.

"We need to be consulted about this. The people of Northern Ireland need to be consulted about this."

He added that Northern Ireland currently has the best and most protected care for women and unborn children but come October 22, it will have the worst in western Europe.

Amnesty International's Grainne Teggart said that medical professionals will be able to decline to take part in an abortion if they choose to do so.

"We understand that the Northern Ireland Office will make provision for this," she continued.

"The Government will set out full regulations on services by March next year and there will be interim guidance in place in time for October 21.

"For now, we can look forward to this date as the day when our healthcare is finally decriminalised. Change cannot come quickly enough."

Ms Teggart also believes that there is a sense of relief in Northern Ireland that there will now be laws that "place choice at the centre".

"All key medical bodies including the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists support decriminalisation of this healthcare which will take effect on October 22," she said.

"Medical professionals have long been compromised by the current law in the care they can give to their patients - operating in a climate of fear and under threat of prosecution."

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said that abortion is an issue that should be debated in the Stormont Assembly and all parties should commit to restoring devolution.

The Department for Health said it was liaising with Northern Ireland Office officials on preparations, including guidance for health service professionals and the general public.

Dr Andrew Cupples
Dr Andrew Cupples

The Royal College of GPs said "conscientious objection" for healthcare staff must be protected and included in guidelines.

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