Northern Ireland

Revised abortion guidelines to go before Stormont executive

Pregnancy test
Thousands of women travel to other parts of the UK each year for a termination

Revised guidelines on abortion in Northern Ireland are to be brought before the Stormont Executive in weeks.

The move followed calls for further consideration of the regulations after women carrying babies with fatal foetal abnormalities told their stories.

Foetal abnormality is not a reason for abortion under Northern Ireland law.

Health Minister Edwin Poots has said he would meet the Public Prosecution Service over potential prosecution of staff involved in an abortion.

In a statement on Wednesday, a Department of Health spokesperson said consultation on the draft guidelines, issued in March, had now closed.

"A number of submissions highlighted the issue of lethal foetal abnormality and incompatibility with life," the statement said.

Appeals

"Full consideration is currently been given to all the consultation submissions and the minister intends to bring a final version to the executive for its consideration at an early stage, ideally within a number of weeks".

Meanwhile, a retired senior obstetrician has told the BBC that the draft abortion guidelines have caused a "mood of fear" among medical staff since their publication in March.

Prof Jim Dornan, who was involved in drawing up the previous guidelines, said high-profile foetal abnormality cases were emerging now because of the new measures included in the six-month old draft guidelines.

He said those measures included a warning that staff could face ten years in jail if they failed to report their suspicions of unlawful terminations to police.

Prof Dornan has welcomed the health minister's decision to meet the Public Prosecution Service, to clarify the legal implications for health care staff.

Last week, the BBC's Nolan Show highlighted the cases of two women who were refused terminations in Northern Ireland.

Sarah Ewart travelled to England for an abortion because her baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a severe brain abnormality.

She said the baby had no skull formed and it was brain dead.

Another woman, Laura, who is 22 weeks pregnant with twins who are suffering from the same condition, appealed to Mr Poots to allow her to have an abortion in Northern Ireland.

Justice Minister David Ford has previously said he was committed to bringing a paper to the Northern Ireland Executive looking at issues around the termination of pregnancy.

The justice minister said the women's circumstances had highlighted whether adjustments were needed in the current legislation.

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