Beauty industry

Women from Northern Ireland must travel to England for abortions despite pandemic

BELFAST (Reuters) – Women in Northern Ireland seeking abortions have been told they have to take an 8-hour ferry to England despite the lockdown, as the regional government resists pressure to offer abortions locally and the coronavirus pandemic stops flights.

Naomi Connor, co-head of Alliance for Choice, poses with the recommended and safe drug that women in Northern Ireland are denied. Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 7, 2020. REUTERS / Jason Cairnduff

Abortion was decriminalized in Northern Ireland last year after the British parliament bypassed opposition from socially conservative Christian politicians in Belfast to align the region with the rest of the UK, where abortion has been legal since decades.

But the regional health ministry missed an April 1 deadline to start performing abortion, just as the coronavirus pandemic complicated the government-recommended save option of traveling to England for the procedure.

“We are in a worse situation than ever,” said abortion rights activist Emma Campbell, co-chair of the Alliance for Choice group, which has seen calls for help five times higher since the restrictions were introduced. of travel. . “Access is worse than it has been for over 50 years. “

A 39-year-old education worker from County Down, seven weeks pregnant and seeking an abortion, said her local doctor told her that no arrangements were in place to provide abortions in North Ireland.

“I was told I had to take a ferry, take the pill at the clinic in the morning, then take the other pill and then bring the ferry back home,” she told Reuters.

“What is happening to women in Northern Ireland is inhumane,” she said. “Having to squeeze in to get to Liverpool is not what should happen in 2020.”

The only UK clinics currently available for women in Northern Ireland seeking state-funded abortions are in Manchester and Liverpool, but no direct flights are available due to the coronavirus lockdown, according to reports. activists.

A spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which runs the government’s reservation system for women in Northern Ireland requiring abortion, said due to flight cancellations the ferry was currently the only viable route.

“Some members of the executive in Northern Ireland are clearly trying to delay the widespread deployment of services, by refusing to commission services for example …”, said spokeswoman Katherine O’Brien.

Amnesty International called the situations “unfair, dangerous and putting women and girls at unnecessary risk” and said it was concerned that this would lead women to attempt unsafe abortions.

POLITICAL BATTLE

Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster, who like Health Minister Robin Swann describes herself as “pro-life”, told a press conference on Monday that she was against “the abortion on request “.

“This is a retrograde step for our society,” she said.

Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party voted on Monday against a proposal to allow doctors to prescribe the abortion pill via telephone consultations – a measure which was introduced in the rest of the UK following the coronavirus lockdown while the Swann’s Ulster Unionist Party abstained, a source close to the Northern Ireland executive told Reuters.

Alliance non-sectarian leader Stephen Farry wrote a letter to Swann saying the women of Northern Ireland were in an “untenable situation”.

The Department of Health said it was “considering this urgently” but said it would be a matter to be decided by the Northern Ireland executive.

EMERGENCY MEASURES

Alliance for Choice says she was forced to return to her practice before abortion was decriminalized and to work with other groups to try and get abortion pills on the internet and ask a doctor in the Netherlands to ‘assess women and prescribe the pills even though it is not legal to prescribe abortion pills for home use in Northern Ireland.

However, even that depends on the supply of pills which have been severely limited by the coronavirus, Campbell said.

Activists say in addition to an increase in calls for help, they have seen a number of examples of women self-injuring and at least one suicide attempt.

Another pregnant woman, a 29-year-old beauty industry worker from Belfast, said she had asked a local charity to send her pills but was unsure if or when they would arrive .

“At the moment nothing is certain and it is very scary that it is completely out of my hands,” she said.

Written by Conor Humphries and Amanda Ferguson; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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