MEDICAL staff in Northern Ireland have been told they face “no prosecution risk” if they refer women to abortion clinics in England and Wales.
Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Barry McGrory QC, made the clarification to human rights group Amnesty International this morning.
Mr McGrory said he sees “no risk of criminal prosecution for NHS employees” in Northern Ireland who refer patients seeking terminations to clinics in Britain.
He added: “I do not see the issue of criminal liability arising in the context of NHS staff advising or informing patients of the availability of abortion services in England and Wales”.
The Royal College of Midwives said Northern Irish medical staff had feared they could face prosecution if they referred women across the Irish Sea for terminations.
Director Breedagh Hughes said: “Midwives and other healthcare professionals will now be able to refer women to the rest of the UK for abortion services, confident that they will not face prosecution or criminal sanctions.
“The RCM is now calling on the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to issue clear guidance on referring women for abortion to midwives and all those working in this area of healthcare.”
Unlike the rest of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Irish citizens – except in extremely limited circumstances.
In June, MPs in Westminster voted to provide free terminations on the NHS in England and Wales for women who travel from Northern Ireland.
Campaigners against the ban on abortion in Northern Ireland said Mr McGrory’s clarification was a significant breakthrough.
Grainne Teggart from Amnesty Northern Ireland, said: "The threat of prosecution has long loomed over medical professionals in Northern Ireland, who have previously felt unable to refer women to other parts of the UK for abortion services for fear of criminal prosecution.
“This has acted as a significant barrier for women seeking to access abortion.”
She added: "The Public Prosecution Service has now stated clearly they can see no risk of criminal prosecution in these circumstances. This is hugely important and should relieve the profession of this chilling threat.
“This is a significant breakthrough in the fight for abortion rights here."