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Court decision on abortion services in Northern Ireland welcomed

By October 7, 2004News

– Release date: 08 October 2004

In a move welcomed by the Irish Family Planning Association, the Belfast High Court today declared that the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety has actively sought to avoid its responsibilities in relation to the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland.

“The 1967 Abortion Act which allows for abortions to be carried out in the England and Wales does not apply in Northern Ireland, however it is accepted that abortion is legal there in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, these circumstances are unclear, which has resulted in confusing and inconsistent medical practice. The accessibility of abortion in Northern Ireland is determined by doctors who fear prosecution and are unwilling to test the law, or by the moral views of individual doctors.” A spokesperson for the IFPA explained.

In May 2001, fpa Northern Ireland initiated proceedings against the Department of Health, Social Security and Public Safety in Northern Ireland (DHSSPS). The fpa applied for a Judicial Review seeking clarity on the medical practices relating to abortion and the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland. In July, last year Mr Justice Kerr suggested that the Department would be prudent to issue guidelines but did not compel them to do so. Today’s decision will increase pressure on the Department to issue guidelines.

FpaUK are now calling on the DHSSPS to consult health professionals, agencies active in sexual and reproductive health and crucially women themselves with a view to eradicating any doubt over the state of current practice and provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland.

In reaction to the decision, Niall Behan, IFPA Chief Executive said; “We welcome today’s result and commend our colleagues in fpaNI on their attempts to have clarified the current law. For too long women in the North have been denied medical treatment to which they may be legally entitled and this may be the first real step in rectifying this regrettable situation.”

Mr Behan added that, “Not until the Northern Ireland guidelines are clarified will we be able to comment on what this means for women in the South.”

Approximately 1500 women travel to England to terminate their pregnancies per year this figure is based on those who give Northern Irish addresses at the clinics which would suggest the actual figure is higher.