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Charity’s abortion pathway to stop by October if funding not provided

·2-min read

A charity that provides a pathway to abortion services in Northern Ireland has warned it will end in October unless it receives funding.

Abortion was decriminalised in the region in 2019 following legislation passed by Westminster at a time when devolution in the region had collapsed.

However, while individual health trusts have been offering services on an ad hoc basis, the Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the services due to an ongoing impasse within the Executive.

The charity Informing Choices NI (ICNI) has been providing a central access point into early medical abortion (EMA) since April 15, 2020.

A report has found that in the first year almost 2,200 women and girls referred themselves into the central access point service.

The charity has warned that it cannot continue to provide the service beyond October unless it receives funding, adding that would cause severe disruption to, or the suspension of, all EMA services in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Politics
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (David Young/PA)

It has urged Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to intervene.

In March, Mr Lewis took powers that would allow him to direct Stormont to set up services, but he has not done so yet.

ICNI’s director of advocacy and policy, Ruairi Rowan, said it has been “made clear” to Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann that the service cannot continue without funding.

“Given the ongoing failure to commission abortion care, the Secretary of State must urgently intervene to ensure all services provided for within the regulations can be accessed in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“This should include providing immediate support to sustain EMA services in all five trusts, and the continuation of the central access point provided by ICNI.

“Failure to act will have devastating consequences for women and girls by removing the standardised provision of non-directive information on all pregnancy choices, including abortion referral, leave some women unable to access high-quality post-abortion counselling, and could result in the regional collapse of all EMA service.”

Amnesty International has backed the charity’s call for funding.

Northern Ireland abortion laws
Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland campaign manager Grainne Teggart said: “The Health Minister’s failure to commission services has directly led to the impending collapse of the only local pathway we have into early medical abortion services.

“It is the minister’s job to remove barriers to healthcare, not create them.

“Early medical abortion access is on a cliff edge. The Secretary of State must act now to direct the commissioning services before it is too late.

“The consequences of collapse in this vital provision will be significant for both women and healthcare professionals.

“Choice must be respected and protected – the only way to achieve this is through a fully resourced service.”

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