Health Minister Edwin Poots has said he “fully intends” to publish guidelines on abortion in Northern Ireland — but has refused to confirm a date.
Addressing the delay, the minister said he has had to ensure the guidelines were “robust enough” to withstand legal challenge.
NHS terminations can only be carried out in Northern Ireland to preserve the life of the mother or if continuing the pregnancy would adversely impact on her physical or mental health.
But some medical professionals and pro-choice campaigners have repeatedly warned that the lack of Department of Health guidelines for doctors and nurses on abortion leaves staff vulnerable to the risk of prosecution.
Dr Audrey Simpson, director of the pro-choice Family Planning Association (FPA) in Northern Ireland, described the case of Savita Halappanavar in Galway as “tragic”. “It underlines the urgency for Minister Poots to get the guidelines out here,” she said.
“It is an absolute disgrace that these guidelines are not out.” Mr Poots was unavailable. But in a statement issued on behalf of the department, he said: “I fully intend to publish guidance on termination of pregnancy.
“However, the issue has a history of judicial review and I must ensure that any guidance published by my department is robust enough to withstand legal challenge.
“I am considering the full range of issues involved and seeking advice where appropriate.”
Breedagh Hughes of the Royal College of Midwives said they have been calling for the guidelines to be published since 2004