I have received a number of emails regarding concerns about the current Abortion laws in this country and about proposals to adjust the current law.
I completely understand what an incredibly emotive issue this is, and I appreciate the strength of feeling on both sides. It is for this reason that, as with other matters of conscience, the Government adopts a neutral stance on abortion, allowing Conservative MPs to vote freely according to their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. This is a convention which I support wholeheartedly.
The approach to abortion in Great Britain is set out in the Abortion Act 1967, which states that two doctors must certify that, in their opinion, a request for an abortion meets at least one and the same ground laid out in the Act. These grounds include “risk to the life of the pregnant woman”, and “substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”.
I am encouraged that guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act has been issued, which stipulates that registered medical practitioners should be able to show how they have considered the particular facts and circumstances of a case when forming their opinion. Full details can be found online at www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-act.
I note concerns regarding abortions on the grounds of disability. Not every pregnancy goes to plan and foetal abnormalities of varying degrees of severity occur. Women need support and information to reach an informed decision about how to proceed. Health professionals must adopt a supportive and non-judgemental approach regardless of whether the decision is to terminate or continue the pregnancy.
Abortion on the grounds of sex alone is illegal and I am glad that the Government guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act makes this clear.
(DIY Abortions) Abortion Care During Coronavirus
I have been contacted by some constituents in Broxtowe regarding abortion care during Coronavirus.
Abortion care is an essential part of care for women, and safeguarding measures are still in place. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has offered guidance on this issue which can be found here:
Guidelines have been issued which enable women to take both Mifepristone and Misoprostol at home for the duration of the outbreak, so that they do not have to visit a medical practice and risk exposure to the virus, and to enable doctors to prescribe medicines from home without consulting a second practitioner, so that abortion care can be provided even in the case of staff shortages. I have been assured this alteration will last only as long as the temporary provisions enacted by the Coronavirus Act 2020 to protect women seeking care. The medicines must still be instigated prior to nine weeks and six days into the pregnancy.
Abortion Northern Ireland
The Government has taken actions to meet its legal obligation and introduce the abortion framework for Northern Ireland. The Government was placed under a statutory duty to deliver abortion law for Northern Ireland by implementing the recommendations of the CEDAW report. That duty came into effect, given that the Executive was not restored by 21 October 2019.
The Regulations have now been debated and approved by both Houses of the UK Parliament, as required, and therefore remain in force as the law on access to abortion services in Northern Ireland. This means that since 31 March 2020, when the initial Regulations came into force, abortion services in Northern Ireland must be provided in a way that is consistent with the legal parameters set out in the Regulations.
Access to abortion services in Northern Ireland is now a clinical health matter for the Northern Ireland Department of Health, and Health and Social Care Trusts, to take forward as a new health service. I am pleased, however, that some service provision has commenced on the ground in Northern Ireland through existing sexual and reproductive health services in several Trust areas to date. To facilitate this, Informing Choices Northern Ireland is acting as the Central Access Point in order to provide a local pathway to this local abortion care. The Central Booking Service in England can also continue to be contacted for support and advice on options available at present.
I have been assured that the Government stands ready to provide whatever support and guidance it can and I understand that the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, has written to the relevant Northern Ireland ministers to ensure the implementation of all of the recommendations under paragraphs 85 and 86 of the CEDAW Report.