Woman taking pregnancy testImage source, Getty Images

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Access to abortion has been available in Northern Ireland since April 2020

By Elaine McGee

BBC Radio Foyle

The Western Trust has recommenced its early abortion services.

Services were suspended at the trust’s early medical abortion clinic in April 2021 due to “staffing resourcing issues”.

It had been previously understood that services were due to recommence services in July of this year.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the trust said that the service “has now gone live and is available to those living in the trust area”.

“We apologise that this service had not been in place within the Western Trust for the past year,” a spokesperson said.

Abortion laws in Northern Ireland changed in 2020 after the UK government acted during the absence of a functioning Stormont assembly.

But services are largely limited to early medical terminations up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris welcomed what he described as a “move forward” by the trust.

“I am committed to ensuring full access to services in Northern Ireland is commissioned as soon as possible,” he said.

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The Western Trust apologised for the suspension of the service in April 2021

What is an early medical abortion?

  • Medical abortion involves pills, not a surgical procedure, according to the NHS
  • You can have a medical abortion if you are less than 10 weeks pregnant
  • It involves taking two different medicines to end a pregnancy
  • The medicines are prescribed by a hospital or clinic, and you usually take them one or two days apart
  • It does not need surgery or an anaesthetic

Those seeking abortion services not yet provided by health trusts in Northern Ireland can access services in Great Britain through arrangements funded by the UK government.

In May, the then Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis instructed the Department of Health to begin the process of setting up a fully-funded abortion service for Northern Ireland.

When services were suspended in 2021 in the Western Trust area – which includes Londonderry, Strabane, Limavady, Omagh and Enniskillen – women were advised to contact the British Pregnancy Advisory Service if they were less than 10 weeks pregnant.

Before the announcement by the Western Trust on Monday, women within the trust area were advised that the early medical abortion service was available to them in neighbouring health trusts.

The Department of Health said it continued to “engage with the Northern Ireland Office and with NI Health and Social Care Trusts to ensure operational readiness to provide commissioned abortion services”.