Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

NI abortion guidelines published

Marie-Louise Connolly
BBC Northern Ireland

Positive pregnancy test
It is illegal for a woman in NI to have an abortion except if her life is at risk.

The Department of Health has, for the first time, published guidance to health professionals in Northern Ireland on terminating pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in NI, except when the mother's life is at risk.

While the move will not change the law, the guidelines should make clear what is and is not permitted.

The Royal College of Midwives has said they will also bring greater clarity to the legal position of staff who take part in terminations.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he and his party colleagues were unhappy with some of the guidelines.

"We had a number of concerns that we raised with the health minister," he said.

"Some were resolved, some remained unresolved and for that reason our ministers voted against the guidelines at the executive.


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"We will not be liberalising the law on abortion here."

The guidelines explain the circumstances of when a termination may be carried out.

It provides guidance on the giving of informed consent from the mother, the provision of counselling both before and after the termination and the responsibility of health and social care organisations to develop and distribute relevant leaflets.

Nursing staff who, on the grounds of conscience, do not wish to assist or perform a termination will also have their rights protected.


Audrey Simpson from the Family Planning Association said the guidelines were the first step towards the government acknowledging that women in certain circumstances had the right to an abortion.

Doctor and patient - posed by models

"I think it's the first time the Department of Health has had to acknowledge that women in Northern Ireland are no different from women in the rest of the UK," she said.

"That they want to access abortion services and in fact they are accessing abortion services."

The Family Planning Association began campaigning for such guidelines to be published in 2001.

Bernadette Smyth from the group Precious Life, which campaigns against abortion, has not welcomed the guidelines.

"In certain cases where a woman's life in is danger, no doctor will withhold medical treatment from any woman and in some cases a child might lose its life," she said.

"But, as these guidelines are written, it would give doctors full permission to carry out a direct act of violence towards unborn children."

In 2004 the Court of Appeal ruled that the Department of Health should inquire into the provision of termination services in Northern Ireland.

Up until now there have been no guidelines for nurses, doctors and GPs when they have been faced with terminating a pregnancy.

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