Pro-choice groups call for abortion access to be protected during pandemic

Pro-choice groups call for abortion access to be protected during pandemic

A number of pro-choice groups have called for the guarantee of abortion rights during the Covid-19 pandemic, including for Northern Irish citizens to have access to Irish hospitals during that time.

Six groupings, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Abortion Rights Campaign, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, have written to the Minister for Health Simon Harris “seeking action” in order to ensure access to abortion services during the crisis.

The joint letter acknowledges “the immense pressure your Department and the health service are currently under”, but states that sexual and reproductive health “is a significant public health issue that requires attention during pandemics”.

A key problem caused by the current crisis for abortion services is the need for two face-to-face meetings - divided by three days - between a woman and the relevant healthcare provider.

From that point of view, the correspondence calls for a public acknowledgement by the State that “abortion is an essential service” and for “all necessary measures” to be taken to ensure that women do not experience undue delay in accessing care over the coming months.

To that end, the letter calls for the provision of remote consultation over the crisis period, together with home administration of the abortion medications mifepristone and misoprostol.

'Not an elective service'

Further, it suggests that “any necessary contingency measures” be taken to ensure access to hospital facilities for those in need of abortion services.

“Abortion is not an elective service which can be cancelled,” the letter reads.

The Department of Health had not immediately replied to a request for comment regarding the status of abortion care during the pandemic at the time of writing.

The letter further calls for abortion travel to be classified as essential during the current travel ban, and to ensure that women from the North can “access care on an equal basis with women who are resident in the State”.

Abortion will not become legal in Northern Ireland before the end of this month, while the North remains under the general UK lockdown instituted by Boris Johnson earlier this week.

Guaranteed access to abortion appointment teleconferencing is among a number of amendments proposed by People Before Profit to the emergency Covid-19 legislation being debated in Dáil Eireann today.

“Abortion services need to be accessible for people, even in the teeth of this crisis,” said party TD Brid Smith.

“People who want an abortion should be able to have a consultation with their doctor and the doctor should be able to offer the abortion pill via teleconference. We also must drop the three-day waiting period for the duration of this crisis,” she said.

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