BELFAST, United Kingdom — Coming into effect at the end of 2018, English women will be allowed to take abortion pills at home; but it remains unclear whether Northern Irish women who travel to England will be allowed to do so.
Currently, women who plan to end a pregnancy at 10 weeks or less are required to take two abortive pills at the clinic. The second pill is taken between 24-48 hours after the first one.
With the new plan, the women will be allowed to take the second abortion pill at home, after the first one has been taken at the clinic.
The women may have to prove English residency; a similar program in Scotland requires a residence test.
If the residency test is adopted in England, it “would deny women coming from Northern Ireland this choice of procedure,” Labour MP Stella Creasy has said.
Victoria Atkins, British Minister for Women and Equalities, explained that the Department for Health is only able to approve English homes as a place that the abortion bill can be taken.
Atkins said officials “are working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to determine protocol which will set out criteria for which places should be covered by the term ‘home’.”
“We will look at how the (early abortion pill) schemes are working in Scotland and Wales and learn from the experience there.”
Abortion is allowed in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life is at risk, or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health. Abortion pills are illegal in Northern Ireland.
Bills to legalize abortion for fatal fetal abnormality or rape or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.
In June 2017, Teresa May’s government announced that Northern Irish women would be able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England.
The UK Supreme Court threw out a case challenging Northern Ireland’s abortion law in June 2018, saying the commission which brought the case does not have standing to do so. However, the judges also said the current law violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lord Mance, delivering the judgement June 7, said that had the commission the competence to bring the challenge, “I would have concluded, without real hesitation at the end of the day, that the current Northern Ireland law is incompatible with article 8 of the [European human rights] convention insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape and incest but not insofar as it prohibits abortion in cases of serious fetal abnormality.”