Belfast Telegraph

Unconditional abortion allowed up to 14 weeks in Northern Ireland under new proposals

Consideration: Grainne Teggart
Consideration: Grainne Teggart

By Michael McHugh

Unrestricted abortion would be available in Northern Ireland up to 12 or 14 weeks under Government proposals.

Ministers are bound to introduce a system governing terminations by next spring.

MPs at Westminster forced the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to act after legislation passed earlier this year reformed the most restrictive laws surrounding child birth in the UK.

An official consultation said: "Twelve weeks gestation has been considered because it is the end of the first trimester of pregnancy and in England and Wales 90% of abortions are performed within this timeframe.

"However, an alternative approach would be allowing for a termination up to 14 weeks gestation without conditionality, as some women and girls may have been delayed in finding out that they are pregnant and others may need more time to reach a decision."

Abortion is a deeply divisive issue in Northern Ireland.

The DUP failed in a last-ditch bid at Stormont to thwart legalisation last month.

The Government said it was concerned that it may not be appropriate for a new process to be applied that requires a woman or girl to provide evidence that the pregnancy is a result of sexual crime and to obtain certification from a medical professional on that basis.

Its consultation added: "No certificate of opinion may be required from a doctor for the early termination (up to 12/14 weeks gestation), because it is proposed that termination will be available up to this gestational limit without any medical grounds being required to be met."

Mental well-being grounds may allow an abortion after 14 weeks under the proposals.

Abortion without time limit may be available in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or where a woman's life was at risk or she was in danger of suffering permanent injury.

Any medical practitioner may perform the procedure and flexibility would be shown about where, recognising the use of pills at a woman's home.

Later stage abortions would take place in hospital.

A provision allowing medics to opt out on conscientious objection grounds would cover the course of treatment.

An exclusion or safe zone would be in place allowing women to obtain the procedure without facing protest.

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International said: "Following historic legislative reform last month, this is critical opportunity to ensure a framework for abortion services which has choice and rights firmly at the centre.

"The new framework must be completely clear - both for those who need an abortion, and the healthcare professionals providing it.

"We will now carefully consider the consultation document."

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