AN ANTI-ABORTION group of 135 medical staff have hit out at a “flawed” consultation on changes to Northern Ireland’s laws.
The landmark consultation on how new abortion services should operate, launched by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) last month, closed yesterday evening.
Abortions were decriminalised in October following legislation introduced by MPs at Westminster.
The change means that women who seek abortions and medical staff who help them can no longer be prosecuted.
In a statement, a group of medical staff, which includes nurses, GPs, pharmacists and midwives, said it was unhappy about proposed provision for medics who refuse to take part in abortions on the grounds of conscience.
Medics in the UK do not have to participate in abortions but the conscience clause does not cover any ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks linked to the procedure.
“It is indeed welcome that healthcare professionals who object to abortion do not have to participate in a ‘hands-on’ capacity in the procedure,” the group warned.
“However, for many, requests to act in an ancillary, administrative or managerial task in abortion provision may be equally problematic.
“Performing such tasks may be key to an abortion taking place and could lead to the professional in question feeling they are complicit in something they believe to be deeply wrong.”
The group, including Carrickfergus GP Dr Andrew Cupples, claimed that some medics may decide to leave the profession.
“It is possible to provide abortion services to all those who are seeking such services while respecting in a fulsome manner the rights of conscience of healthcare professionals,” it said.
In a joint opinion piece, former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan and DUP peer Lord Maurice Morrow complained that the consultation document was not sufficiently clear.
“The questions in the consultation document are so phrased that, for example, a respondent to the consultation is asked whether abortion should be freely available up to either 12 or 14 weeks,” they said.
“There is a choice of two boxes to tick – one for 12 weeks, one for 14 weeks.
“There is no box for neither.
“The consultation is riddled with vagueness, suggesting for example that abortions might be carried out by ‘health professionals’ rather than doctors but not specifying what kind of health professional.
“This consultation document is not fit for purpose, as a consequence of its lack of clarity.”
New abortion services are due to be set up by the end of March.
Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland campaigns manager for Amnesty UK, said abortion services must be introduced “swiftly and effectively”.
“Our new law respects choice and promotes the rights of women and girls – this must translate to how our new services are set up and run,” she said.
“It’s essential that abortion services are fully accessible to everyone in the region, and that provisions are made to ensure people can access and provide services in an enabling environment.
“Finally we will have the compassionate care we deserve.”