Travel restrictions have also exacerbated an already difficult situation, as many women in Northern Ireland have continued to travel to England to have the procedure. But the risk to their own health and the travel restrictions throughout the last year have made that all but impossible, rights groups say.
The region’s Department of Health has failed to issue any guidance on how the abortion services should be provided. The department previously issued a statement to the Belfast Telegraph saying it was not required to commission abortion services. It said further decisions about commissioning abortion services would come from the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly after a public consultation. But the Northern Ireland Executive, the devolved government of the region, received requests from the department in April and May seeking to commission abortions, and has yet to bring forth a debate.
Critics say the inaction is an excuse to delay the implementation of a robust program over an issue that remains a contentious one, with some of the political parties in power still advocating against access to abortion. The Department of Heath and Northern Ireland Executive did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But lawmakers in British Parliament have voiced concern about the issue, with the deputy leader of the Alliance Party, Stephen Farry, tweeting on Sunday, “It shouldn’t fall again to the courts to ensure delivery of the law. The law on abortion is now settled.”
While the rest of the United Kingdom has made way for telemedicine services for those seeking abortions, Northern Ireland has not, despite the health minister being given specific powers to allow for telemedicine if necessary, which he declined. Alliance for Choice, a Northern Irish reproductive rights group and a vocal critic of the lack of services, voiced its support for the legal action and said that the issue has already reached a crisis point for many women and girls.
Emma Campbell, the group’s co-chairwoman, said that for most women seeking an early-term abortion, the process is a simple procedure of taking five pills. Her group is providing “abortion doulas” to give advice and support either by telephone or by message.
“We get loads of calls from people who don’t know, who are cross and angry and upset,” Ms. Campbell said.