Northern Ireland Health Department Publishes New Guidelines on Legal Abortions

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 20, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Northern Ireland Health Department Publishes New Guidelines on Legal Abortions

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 20
, 2009

Belfast, Northern Ireland ( — The Northern Ireland Department of Health is being accused of attempting to legalize abortions through the back door by approving new guidelines that explain the rare circumstances when abortions can be legally done. Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of Great Britain, does not allow abortions.

The health department published a new set of instructions for doctors on Friday that explain the rare exceptions in the abortion ban.

The new document says abortions can be done for two reasons: to "preserve the life of the woman" or if a physician determines continuing the pregnancy will impose "a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long-term or permanent."

The documents make no mention of the fact that abortion causes serious, and sometimes lethal, long-term medical and mental health problems for women.

The document indicates a suicide threat would be a reason for an abortion, even though research clearly shows having an abortion increases a woman’s risk of committing suicide.

Abortion advocates welcome the move, but pro-life groups are concerned the new guidelines are flawed and must be must be scrapped.

Bernadette Smyth, the director of the main pro-life group Precious Life, told she is concerned.

“These guidelines are skewed in favor of performing, rather than not performing abortions," she said. "The laws that protect unborn children in Northern Ireland are very clear. Killing an unborn child is illegal and a criminal offence."

"The guidelines fail to distinguish between ‘direct’ abortion – when the child is intentionally killed – and ‘indirect’ abortion – when the child dies unintentionally as a result of the mother receiving life-saving medical treatment," she explained.

Smyth told that the department of health "claims their guidelines will not change the law relating to abortion in Northern Ireland. However, these guidelines are an attempt to change the interpretation of the law."

"These guidelines will effectively legalize abortion through the back door, allowing abortion on demand, right up to birth," she said.

Smyth points out that the guidelines misinterpret the law and she says Precious Life will continue to campaign vigorously to have these guidelines repealed and unborn children are protected.

Audrey Simpson, director of the Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland, which has campaigned for legal abortions, welcomed the guidelines and said they would give doctors good guidance.

In January, a new report indicated a record number of women from Northern Ireland headed to England and Wales in 2007 for abortions.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey released the new stats showing 1,343 abortions in England and Wales done on women who gave a Northern Ireland home address.

That brings the total to 6,400 abortions done on women from the region in England from 2003 to 2007.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the 2007 figures represent a rise of 48 abortions compared with the 2006 numbers and an increase of 179 compared with the 2005 numbers.

The numbers would likely be higher if they included the hard-to-tabulate figures of abortions done on women traveling to Scotland or elsewhere for abortions.

McGimpsey also indicated that there were 99 abortions done in Northern Ireland in 2007, most of which were done in the rare case when the pregnancy supposedly poses a life risk to the mother.

Related web sites:
Precious Life –

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