The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) welcomes the new model of care allowing doctors to consult with patients entirely by phone or videoconference for abortion in primary care settings. Telemedicine to provide abortion is safe, effective and recommended by bodies such as the World Health Organisation. “Evidence-based medical advice has been a crucial component of the Covid-19 response” says Anna Carnegie, Spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Campaign. “We are pleased to see the same scientific rigour and good sense applied to reproductive healthcare.”
“While the introduction of this guidance is undoubtedly a positive step, we are concerned that two in-person visits are still required for people who are between 10 and 12 weeks pregnant.” Telemedicine abortion for patients over 10 weeks gestation has been successfully introduced in countries like Scotland1 in response to covid-19. “No-one should be forced to travel unnecessarily during this pandemic.”
“Moreover, we are deeply dismayed that our siblings in Northern Ireland have once again been left behind” says Carnegie. “They are now the only part of the UK and Ireland without remote abortion access. Despite a regulatory framework which permits him to do so, Health Minister Robin Swann still refuses to provide this essential healthcare service to people in the North.” Instead of making this vital change to ensure that people have access to the healthcare they need at home, Swann and the Northern Ireland Office would rather force them to make the burdensome and outright dangerous journey to England. “This flies in the face of the UK’s own health and travel guidance during this unprecedented global pandemic and contravenes obligations under CEDAW2” says Carnegie.
“To be clear, the Health Minister is telling pregnant people to take an eight-hour ferry ride to Liverpool, take a taxi to the clinic, and then make the long journey back after their appointment. What the Minister is advising is a grave danger to the public health he is appointed to safeguard.” While Swann fails to act and travel overseas becomes practically impossible, activists in Northern Ireland have been forced to take provision into their own hands and facilitate access to telemedicine abortion.
To date, Northern Irish residents who accessed services in the South have been charged substantial fees in order to avail of abortion care here. “In the context of a global pandemic and the absence of local services in Northern Ireland, we once again call on the Irish Government to make abortion, including abortion by remote consultation, freely available to residents of the North. We call upon the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to act within their power and provide local telemedicine services in Northern Ireland.”
1 Scottish Government (31 Mar 2020) Abortion – Covid-19 – approval for mifepristone to be taken at home and other contingency measures.
2 Paragraph 83(b) CEDAW found the State party responsible for “systematic violations of rights” under the Convention by “compelling women to: (i) Carry pregnancies to full term; (ii) Travel outside NI to undergo legal abortion; or (iii) Self-administer abortifacients.” The State Party is still compelling these very same things that violate people’s rights now that abortion has become legal.