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Draft abortion guidelines will be produced in Northern Ireland

A judicial review run by Leigh Day has prompted the Northern Ireland Department of Health to commit to publishing abortion guidelines

Family Planning Association welcome abortion guidelines in Northern Ireland

28 February 2013

In a concession made just hours before today's hearing the Northern Ireland Department of Health yesterday confirmed that draft abortion guidelines for Northern Ireland will be produced, for the approval of the ministerial Executive in Belfast, by March 7th.

A judicial review launched by Leigh Day on behalf of the Family Planning Association (FPA) was due to begin today to ask the High Court in Belfast to order the Department to publish guidelines.  However, a letter was received by the FPA from the minister's office yesterday afternoon confirming Minister Edwin Poots' decision.

Speaking outside the Court, Richard Stein partner in the human rights team at Leigh Day, said:

"Having had endless prevarication, all of a sudden a matter of hours before the hearing they conceded the whole position, agreeing that they would put draft guidelines to the Executive to go out for consultation.

"It is another important step forward, it has broken the deadlock which has arisen since Minister Poots has been at the Department of Health, however, we remain doubtful that the guidelines will enable women to have the right to choose and not be dictated to by those with strong religious convictions which have no place in modern healthcare."

Unlike Great Britain abortion is only allowed in very restricted circumstances in Northern Ireland, such as to save a woman`s life or where there is a serious risk to her health.

After a previous legal action by the FPA charity, the Department of Health at Stormont issued a 20-page document in 2009 containing guidance for health professionals on the termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland.

It was withdrawn the following year after a successful legal challenge by anti-abortion campaigners led to a ruling that sections on counselling and conscientious objection should be rewritten.

The opening of a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast last year led to public protests and scrutiny by a committee in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Outside court Audrey Simpson, chief executive of the FPA in Northern Ireland, called for guidance to be issued urgently after the minister's commitment. In a statement she said: "It's unfortunate that the Family Planning Association had to resort to legal action to achieve this result.

"The action now promised by the department is something that should have happened many years ago.

"The Family Planning Association started this process almost 12 years ago and it's very interesting to note that in that period public opinion on the issue has changed significantly."

Ms Simpson added: "It's essential that the guidance should contain clear pathways for referrals for women and directions for aftercare services which is essentially what these proceedings were all about."

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