Northern Ireland news

Minister says advice that doctors in north could face criminal charges for sending women to England for an abortion 'completely bogus'

 Women and equalities minister Penny Mourdant said there was a "a complete paucity in care being endured by women in Northern Ireland" in relation to abortion access because of outdated advice to doctors
George Ryan

A MINISTER has said advice about whether doctors in Northern Ireland could face criminal charges for sending women and girls to England for an abortion is "completely bogus".

Women and equalities minister Penny Mourdant said there was a "a complete paucity in care being endured by women in Northern Ireland" in relation to abortion access because of outdated advice to doctors.

Since the collapse of the powersharing executive in 2017, there have been major developments relating to abortion in Northern Ireland, including the introduction by the UK government of funding for women and girls to access free abortion services in England.

However, the Department of Health for Northern Ireland has not updated its guidance for doctors since the new provision was brought in.

Maria Miller, Conservative chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, asked Ms Mourdant if the government will publish its legal advice.

She said: "The Department for Health in Northern Ireland guidance says that Northern Ireland doctors referring women to UK government-funded free abortions in England could be breaking the criminal law. Will the minister publish her legal advice to enable the Department for Health to change this guidance which is surely erroneous?"

Ms Mourdant responded on behalf of the government: "The legal advice we received at the time of setting up that scheme meant that it would not be a crime to refer people into these services and that the issue that she raises in her question does not stand."

Ms Mourdant said that after speaking to government colleagues she was assured "they have the powers to provide guidance to ensure that no-one is deterred from referring someone to a healthcare service that they need and that their life may be in danger if they do not receive because of fear that it might be a crime".

She added: "There is obviously more to do to put right this issue, so that every citizen of the United Kingdom can have the healthcare services that they need."

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