North's abortion laws risk women's lives, warn medics

Women’s lives are being put at risk by the North's abortion laws, medics have warned.

Doctors, midwives and healthcare professionals have signed an open letter calling for the decriminalisation of terminations.

It states: “The criminalisation of abortion prevents healthcare providers from delivering timely, medically indicated care in accordance with their patients’ wishes,” the letter says.

“It impedes and disregards sound medical judgment and can undermine the professional duty of care and confidentiality that doctors bear towards their patients.”

The letter has been published by Amnesty International and is signed by 838 medical professionals from 44 countries across the world.

40% of women of childbearing age live in countries where abortion is banned, highly restricted or inaccessible. Unsafe abortion now accounts for 13% of maternal deaths, resulting in 47,000 women and girls dying each year.

The UK's 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to the North, where terminations are illegal except in circumstances where the mother’s life or mental health is in grave danger.

Up to 2,000 women leave the North to access pregnancy terminations every year.

Breedagh Hughes, from the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Every day midwives and medics work with women, often with planned and wanted pregnancies, who have received devastating news that their foetus will not survive. It is immensely frustrating that we are not able to give them the care they require.

“Laws in Ireland and Northern Ireland do not stop women seeking or needing abortions, instead it forces them to travel to England or elsewhere to receive the healthcare or resort to desperate, often dangerous, measures.”

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has taken legal action to change the law to allow abortion in certain circumstances including cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

The contentious issue hit the headlines in 2013 when Sarah Ewart went public about having to travel to England to access an abortion after being told her baby had no chance of survival.

Pro-life campaigners have vehemently opposed any changes and have criticised the legal action as undemocratic. According to Amnesty, 40% of women of childbearing age live in countries where terminations are banned, highly restricted or otherwise inaccessible. Unsafe abortions account for 47,000 women and girls’ deaths every year, the organisation said.

Grainne Teggart, manager of Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign, said the law was an “embarrassment”.

She said: “The message from hundreds of health professionals worldwide is clear; women are not criminals and criminalising abortion endangers their health and, in some cases, their lives.

“Medical professionals need space to make clinical decisions without the threat of prosecution. It’s time governments treated abortion for what it is; a healthcare and human rights issue, not a criminal act.”


KEYWORDS: Abortion laws

 

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