Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Iris Robinson MP MLA, Chairperson
Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety

Room 412
Parliament Buildings

Tel: 028 9052 1920
Fax: 028 9052 1667

10 November 2008


Mr Michael McGimpsey MLA
Minister for Health, Social Services & Public Safety
Castle Buildings
Stormont Estate


The Committee welcomes the opportunity to comment on the draft Guidance on the Termination of Pregnancy in Northern Ireland and is grateful to the officials for attending the meeting on 17 October. As you know the Committee also took evidence from both Pro Life representatives and Pro Choice representatives on the same date.

The comments by the Committee on the guidance are set out in the attached memo. A transcript of the evidence on the 17 October will be forwarded to the Department for information as soon as it is available.

The Committee recognises that the guidance deals with the need for advice and guidance for healthcare professionals in relation to the termination of pregnancy. However, the Committee also recommends that it is important for all healthcare workers to be given advice and guidance on all aspects of the law that is relevant to their work.

Iris Robinson MP MLA

Committee for Health Social Services and Public Safety

Guidance on the Termination of Pregnancy: The Law and Clinical Practice in Northern Ireland 

Committee response to the Draft Guidance

  1. The Committee recognises that there is an urgent need for this guidance and believes that it must be set out very clearly leaving no room for ambiguity. The Committee therefore believes that the starting point for the Guidance should have been a clear statement that abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland and that the purpose of the guidance is to explain the very limited circumstances in which it is lawful to terminate a pregnancy. The Committee fully endorsed the statement by Professor John Keown, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University who argued that “The starting point of the Guidance should have been a clear statement of the illegality of abortion in Northern Ireland: that it is a crime punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment to use any means with intent to procure miscarriage, and an offence to supply means knowing that they are to be used with that intent. The Guidance should then have recalled the central if not sole purpose of this prohibition: the protection of the unborn child, a purpose which has informed the law against abortion for over 700 years. Only when the rule had been clearly stated should the scope of the exception have been considered.”
  2. The Committee is concerned that there is no mention in the draft of the rights of the unborn baby and believe that it must be made clear that all those involved including health care professionals and counsellors need to take the rights of the child into consideration.
  3. In relation to clinical assessment the Committee has concerns about the suggestion in paragraph 3.3 that a GP or consultant obstetrician may carry out an assessment of a woman’s mental health and would recommend that such assessments must always be carried out by a relevant and fully competent professional.
  4. In relation to counselling – paragraphs 5.6-5.9 – the Committee believes that this should be independent, non-directive and non-judgemental.
  5. In paragraph 7.2 line 2 the words ‘considering termination’ and in line 3 ‘before the procedure’ should be omitted.
  6. In paragraph 2.2(i) line 2 – after the words ‘performed in good faith’ insert ‘only’ and in paragraph 2.6 line 4 after the word ‘destruction’ insert ‘only’.
  7. The Committee believes that the decision making process must be very clearly documented at all stages and welcomes the guidance set out in paragraph 5.13.
  8. The Committee recommends that there must be clear pathways in place for referral for women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy.
  9. The Committee believes that there is a need for greater clarity for health care professionals and recommends that adequate training arrangements in relation to this issue must be put in place for all health care professionals.
  10. The Committee recognises the legal position in relation to the requirement for parental consent for medical procedures for minors and notes the guidance in paragraph 5.4. However, it has very serious concerns that young people, particularly those with learning disabilities, could be seeking a termination of pregnancy without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
  11. The Committee has very serious concerns about the existence of internet sites that purport to offer drugs, whether genuine or bogus, for the termination of pregnancy and the serious risks to health posed by such drugs. The Committee would urge the Department to consider what action can be taken to tackle this issue.