Coronavirus: Woman can travel to England for abortions, Secretary of State says

Abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland last October following legislation passed by Westminster.
Rebecca Black, Press Association

The Secretary of State has suggested it is appropriate for women to travel to England to seek terminations during the coronavirus lockdown.

Strict abortion laws were overturned on March 31 after MPs voted for a change in the law last year.

Decisions have not yet been made by Stormont officials on how to put the new legislation into practice.

READ MORE: New abortion laws allow unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks

The Department of Health had intended that women continue to travel to England for terminations. However, restrictions on travel due to coronavirus have placed the arrangement into difficulty.

Women in England will be able to have a medical abortion at home using termination pills during the lockdown period.

That option has not been made available to women in Northern Ireland.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said travel is currently appropriate for medical needs.

"Travel should only be for essential travel, one of those key points is a medical need or the need to provide medical care and support to other people. So if there is a medical need for someone to travel, that is something that is appropriate within the guidelines," he told the BBC.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis

The Northern Ireland Office has published the new abortion regulations.

"We are in unprecedented times, the health service has got a huge range of work to do, quite rightly focusing as well on dealing with this virus," Mr Lewis said.

"We just wanted to make sure that we are clear that there is an ability there, people can actually access the ability to go forward. We've done everything we can to put in place a safe system for women in Northern Ireland with that legislation and that will continue while the executive itself is working through how to establish abortion services to be in place in Northern Ireland.

"I would encourage people to look at the outline of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service who are contracted to provide the booking services for women travelling to England if they need to access abortion services.

"We are keeping this under review... there is some really quite upsetting cases of women who have had to look to abortion as a medical need and we've got to make sure that that provision is there for them... and that is there at the moment, obviously long term we want to see that provided properly and officially in Northern Ireland."

Health minister Robin Swann 

Health minister Robin Swann was pressed on the matter at the Stormont health committee last week by Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw.

He responded by saying the question of abortion is a sensitive issue and one for the Executive as a whole to decide on.

"It is a sensitive issue in Northern Ireland, it's a cross-cutting issue as well and it's not one solely for the Department of Health," he said.

It is understood the Northern Ireland Executive will discuss the situation around abortion at a meeting today.

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