Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland anti-abortion group considers judicial review after court threat against medics lifted

By Victoria Leonard

An anti-abortion group may launch a judicial review after it emerged that medical staff won't be prosecuted for referring women from Northern Ireland to NHS hospitals in Great Britain for free abortions.

Precious Life director Bernadette Smyth was responding to comments made by Barra McGrory QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), after he stated that he can see no risk of prosecution for NHS employees in Northern Ireland who refer women to hospitals and clinics in the rest of the UK for a termination.

The DPP's letter was in response to Amnesty International's request for clarity over guidance issued in 2016 by the Department of Health to medical staff here on the termination of pregnancies.

An abortion can only be carried out in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or there is a "real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health" which is long-term or permanent.

The Conservative government announced back in June that it would fund abortions for women from Northern Ireland in hospitals and clinics in Great Britain.

"It's not illegal to give advice, but existing law needs to be challenged to see if it would be legal to make a pathway for women to travel to the rest of the UK to seek something that is illegal here," Ms Smyth said.

"There is a grey area around what constitutes procurement of abortions, but for the NHS in Northern Ireland to be involved through a referral system doesn't make sense.

"The law around procuring abortions in Northern Ireland is very clear - it is illegal and I can't understand how the Director of the PPS could say that it is legal to promote something that's illegal.

"This could put our medical professionals into deep waters. Would this put pressure on a GP's practice or a consultant in any of our health trusts, where a woman would go and ask, 'Could you set this up for me?'

"There are a lot of fears - healthcare professionals here could be put under major pressure over referrals."

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) has welcomed Mr McGrory's comments, but said the province's abortion laws "still reduce Northern Ireland women to second class status in the UK".

ARC spokesperson Clare Lanigan said: "This announcement is an improvement of the situation for the hundreds of women and pregnant people forced to travel from Northern Ireland every year to access healthcare."

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