The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) welcome the direction set out today by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis MP, to make abortion services available in Northern Ireland as soon as possible, but warn interim services will require significant support ahead of the set deadline.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis MP, has today released a statement directing the Northern Ireland Department of Health on the commissioning of abortion services.
Further to a historic vote in Parliament in 2019 to decriminalise abortion care in Northern Ireland and the publication of a legal regulatory framework in 2020, there is still not a comprehensive abortion service in the region.
In his statement, the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis MP directs that abortion services must be commissioned, provided and funded in Northern Ireland as soon as possible and no later than 31 March 2022. He also directs that immediate support should be provided for interim services of early medical abortion. This includes the work of Informing Choices Northern Ireland, who announced last month they would no longer be able to continue providing the Central Access Point into early medical abortion services after 1st October unless funding is made available.
It is clear from the Secretary of State that the Northern Ireland Executive must act in accordance with this direction and swiftly establish an abortion service that is compliant with the 2018 Report of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:
“The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare strongly welcomes today’s direction given by the Secretary of State to the Department of Health to commission funded abortion services in Northern Ireland.
“For too long, women have been unable to access safe abortion care within the region – forcing 371 women to travel to England and Wales last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“However, we are concerned that services providing interim abortion care will require significant support to provide care until the deadline of March 2022. There must be continued review of the requirements of these services to ensure the needs of women are met and that healthcare professionals are supported to deliver this care.
“In line with the 2018 Report of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, we must also see accessible and free contraceptive services within the abortion pathway.
“All women in the UK should be able to receive prompt access to abortion services. We urge the Government and Northern Ireland Office to maintain this political commitment and call on the Northern Ireland Department of Health to turn the vision set out in the legal framework for abortion care into a reality, upholding the human rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said:
“The UK Government has made it clear that the rights of women and girls must be upheld. It has been almost two years since Westminster voted to end the suffering of women and girls seeking abortion care in Northern Ireland, and we hope this new direction finally delivers on these commitments.
“Throughout the pandemic, doctors in Northern Ireland, along with other healthcare professionals, have provided interim services without any support from the Northern Ireland Department of Health or the health minister. In a number of cases, women have tried to take their own lives because they have not been able to access care. These are the ramifications when governments refuse to provide access to abortion care, and this cannot continue. We cannot rely on the goodwill and dedication of staff to provide the stable services that women expect and need.
“Support for interim services is now essential, there can be no more delay, and no more excuses. This is a clear direction from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Executive is now obliged to act in accordance with this direction.”
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Notes to Editors
The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is the largest UK professional membership organisation working at the heart of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), supporting healthcare professionals to deliver high quality care. It works with its 15,000 members, to shape sexual reproductive health for all. It produces evidence-based clinical guidance, standards, training, qualifications and research into SRH. It also delivers conferences and publishes the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health in partnership with the BMJ.
The RCOG is a medical charity that champions the provision of high-quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.