Stella Creasy criticises NI Health Department on abortion

By Mark Devenport
BBC News NI Political Editor

image copyrightKelvin Boyes/Press Eye
image captionStella Creasy said she was 'absolutely horrified' by the Department of Health's stance

A Labour MP has strongly criticised Northern Ireland's Department of Health for not updating abortion guidance to health professionals.

Stella Creasy played a crucial role in changing government policy on NI women seeking abortions in England.

She told a discussion at the West Belfast Festival she was "absolutely horrified" by the department's stance.

Ms Creasy's Westminster amendment led to the government offering to provide abortions in England free of charge.

She said it was not acceptable to leave medical professionals "hanging in limbo".

Ms Creasy also pledged to ensure that any women seeking abortions in England get their travel costs reimbursed, as well as having the procedures free of charge.

The Department of Health (DH) said guidance regarding pregnancy terminations in Northern Ireland remained unchanged from that issued in March 2016.

"The decision by the Government in Westminster to allow women from Northern Ireland to have free access to abortions on the NHS in England does not change the law in Northern Ireland," said a spokesperson.

image copyrightKelvin Boyes/Press Eye
image captionAnti-abortion protesters outside the meeting venue on Belfast's Falls Road

The anti-abortion group Precious Life held a protest outside the Falls Library in West Belfast as the abortion law discussion took place.

For a start England shouldn't be getting involved in our politics," said protester Lucy Kelly. "But obviously that isn't going to stop us.

"Whether women receive free abortions or not we're still going to protect our laws here and try and help women... in a compassionate way."

Northern Ireland's abortion laws are much stricter than the rest of the UK.

Abortions are only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.

Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which they can be performed legally.

Women seeking an abortion can travel to England to have one privately, but had not been allowed to have them free on the NHS.

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