Amnesty criticises proposed abortion law change that could mean ten years in jail for women and doctors

'Women, midwives and doctors should not be treated like criminals'
Grainne Teggart

Amnesty International has criticised a proposed change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law that could result in a jail sentence of up to ten years for any woman who has an abortion in a non-NHS clinic, or any health professional involved in the procedure.

The proposal comes in an amendment, from the Chair of the Justice Committee, to the Justice Bill, which will be debated tomorrow (Tuesday) in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The amendment would restrict lawful abortions to NHS hospitals, effectively outlawing clinics such as that operated in Belfast by Marie Stopes International.

On Monday a valid petition of concern was submitted which will effectively block the amendment from becoming law. Grainne Teggart,

Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaigner, said:

'Women's healthcare should not be a matter for criminal sanction. Women and members of the medical profession who treat them, are not criminals and should not be treated as such.

'This attempt to further restrict access to abortion in Northern Ireland is reprehensible at a time when we already have among the most restrictive laws in Europe.

'The proposal comes at a time when no clear access to NHS-provided abortion exists for women in Northern Ireland. The Department of Health is yet to publish its termination of pregnancy guidance, despite this being court-ordered after ten years of delay.

'Previous draft versions of this guidance helped to instil a climate of fear amongst our medical profession. The Justice Committee Chair’s proposal seeks to further restrict clinicians from doing their job by adding to the threat of prosecution already hanging over them.'

Amnesty recently published a report which found that, due to restrictive laws, harsh criminal penalties and a lack of guidance from the Department of Health, medical professionals are fearful to provide lawful abortions, leading to a “postcode lottery” for women trying to access abortion advice and services across Northern Ireland.

This has resulted in women in certain health trust areas, such as western and rural areas, being unable to access termination of pregnancy services.

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