'Central access point' launched for abortion services in Northern Ireland
A charity has launched a 'central access point' helpline for early abortion services in Northern Ireland during the coronavirus pandemic.
It will cover the first nine weeks and six days of pregnancy and be arranged through existing sexual and reproductive health services in the Belfast, Northern and Western health trusts.
The service will involve attending a local clinic to take the first abortion pill, while the second set of pills can be taken at home.
Informing Choices NI described it is an "emergency response to the Covid-19 situation".
Chairperson Dr Audrey Simpson said: "Anyone can contact our helpline and be assured they will be offered non-directive information and, where necessary, referred on to services."
The service is available weekdays between 9am and 5pm by phoning 028 9031 6100.
A new legal framework around terminations took effect from the end of March.
It followed MPs legislating for a liberalisation of Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws in the absence of devolved government at Stormont.
Concerns have been raised that women have been unable to access abortion services during the coronavirus lockdown, with campaigners calling for women to be permitted to take both abortion pills at home.
Amnesty International's Grainne Teggart welcomed the central helpline as "vital during the current pandemic".
But she added: "This does not remove the pressing need for measures that enable both abortion pills to be taken at home, which will ensure that people in vulnerable situations and those unable to travel have access to this healthcare.
"We repeat our call on the government for this to be delivered urgently."
Anti-abortion campaigners have heavily criticised changes to the north's abortion laws and have called for them to be reversed.
Last month the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) launched a billboard campaign against new abortion regulations.
Liam Gibson, SPUC's Northern Ireland political officer, said abortions are "not healthcare" and have "grave risks for the physical and mental health of women".
"Section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act must be repealed," he added.