Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland women may not be able to take abortion pills in England

Northern Irish women who travel to Britain to terminate a pregnancy may not have access to abortion pills following new plans.

It was announced last month that women in England would be allowed to take an early abortion pill at home, and it was hoped the new rules would be in place by 2018.

However women from Northern Ireland who travel to England for abortions may not benefit due to confusion surrounding the definition of 'home'.

Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland in all but the most extreme cases and as a result on average 28 women a week travel to England for terminations.

Campaigns for abortion legislation to be introduced in Northern Ireland have ramped up in the wake of the successful Abortion Referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

Minister for Women and Equalities Victoria Atkins said that the Department of Health will only have power to approve English homes as a place women can legally take the pill.

"Officials are working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to determine protocol which will set out criteria for which places should be covered by the term 'home'," she said.

"We will look at how the (early abortion pill) schemes are working in Scotland and Wales and learn from the experience there."

In England women who want to end a pregnancy within the first ten weeks must take two pills at a clinic, the new plans would allow the second pill to be taken at home.

Labour MP Stella Creasy has been an outspoken supporter of abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland and speaking in the Commons urged the Department of Health to give women who travel access to the pills.

"In Scotland there is a residency test for the abortion pill, which if it is copied in England would deny women coming from Northern Ireland this choice of procedure," she said.

"Will she pledge to work with the Department of Health to prevent this happening, or will she now listen to the Supreme Court which said this is a human rights abuse in the first place?

"Let's get on and give our Northern Irish sisters the right to access healthcare and abortion at home, just as our sisters around the rest of the UK have."

In June Supreme Court judges said that Northern Ireland's existing laws were incompatible with human rights law in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

However they dismissed a challenge from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission over the legality of Northern Ireland's abortion law.

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