Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland mother 'will have charges dropped' in abortion law changes are introduced

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International (PA)
Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International (PA)

By Eimear McGovern

A mother will have charges against her dropped if — as expected — changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are introduced later this month, it is understood.

The Government has published guidance for healthcare professionals on the abortion law ahead of decriminalisation on October 21.

The law change will not be implemented if powersharing is restored by that date.

The guidelines cover up to March 31, 2020, after which a new framework providing safe and lawful access to services is expected to be put in place.

The changes mean that from October 22 local women will not be prosecuted for seeking access to abortions. Probes or prosecutions already under way will not proceed, the guidance states.

The Government said it had made arrangements to support women in Northern Ireland who wish to access services under an existing travel scheme.

Healthcare professionals will also be given information about funded services in England.

Northern Ireland has currently the strictest abortion regime in the UK, with terminations only permitted if the mother’s life is in danger or there is a serious risk to her physical or mental health.

The new guidelines indicate that sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act will be repealed, “so that no criminal charges can be brought against women and girls who undergo abortion, or against qualified healthcare professionals and all others who provide and assist in the abortion”.

Emma Campbell from Alliance for Choice said any charges against women obtaining pills for themselves or others to use are expected to be dropped.

It is understood there is only one live case currently going through Northern Ireland’s legal system — a judicial review taken by a mother of a 15-year-old girl into a decision to prosecute her over obtaining or supplying abortion pills.

It’s understood there are no files currently under consideration by the PPS.

“Now the law has changed, there would be no impetus to prosecute because there’s no law they were breaking,” Ms Campbell said.

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International said that for this mother “decriminalisation and a suspension of prosecutions cannot come quickly enough”.

“It is a glaring inequality that if this daughter had been living in any other part of the UK, she could have accessed these pills freely on the NHS and moved on with her life. It is right that this grave injustice is brought to an end,” she said.

It’s understood that the PPS is currently considering the potential impact of any potential changes to the abortion law.

However, should the Executive be re-formed ahead of October 21, the law will not be changed.

The guidelines also cover the conscientious objection, whereby a healthcare professional can refuse to participate in a termination if it goes against their beliefs. “Consideration is being given to providing for conscientious objection in the new legal framework from the end of March 2020,” the guidance states.

The Government said there were no plans for additional abortion services to be made available here before March 31, 2020. The purchase of abortion pills online is not affected by the changes.

Significantly, abortions will be available for those women who have received a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

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