NORTHERN IRELAND – Abortion services cease in South Eastern Trust following Health Department failure

Amnesty International reports that Northern Ireland’s South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has stopped referrals to their early medical abortion service as of 5 January 2021 due to the failure of the Department of Health to commission and resource services, potentially affecting a population of well over 300,000 women.

Despite abortion regulations that took effect from March 2020 and the fact that women still have a legal entitlement to this service, the failure of the Health Department to commission services means that local health trusts have been left to absorb the costs and pay for abortion care themselves, whilst battling through a pandemic. And women in this one local area will have to travel to other trust areas to have abortions.

The Health Minister has thus created a postcode lottery by forcing women to travel in the midst of the pandemic. At the same time as government is telling people not to travel, this is nothing less than a scandal, said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Director.

In October 2020, it was reported that women in Northern Ireland had been forced to turn to backstreet abortions and some had attempted suicide over the lack of services available for pregnancy terminations. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also criticised the Health Minister for failing to commission abortion services, despite the Government’s legal obligation to do so.

SOURCES: Amnesty UK, 5 January 2021 ; Belfast Telegraph, by Patrick Corrigan, Lisa Smyth, 6 January 2021 ; PHOTO, 2018