Abortion up until birth ‘technically possible’ says medical body leader – but extremely unlikely

The head of the Royal College of Midwives in Northern Ireland has said that it is technically possible to carry out abortions up until the point of birth – although this would be exceedingly rare.

Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 4:08 pm
Image from the NHS of a foetus at 33 to 42 weeks of gestation (final phase)

Karen Murray, the director of the body’s roughly 1,500-strong Northern Irish wing, also estimated that roughly a tenth of her members in the Province have registered an objection to carrying out abortions.

The law on abortions in Northern Ireland has changed as of today.

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Her remarks also follow a slew of comments online which describe as misleading the idea that abortions can be carried out up to full term.

Whilst the overwhelming bulk of abortions do happen before the third trimester, the wording of the new rules does permit abortion “with no gestational time limit” in cases where the child “would suffer from such physical or mental impairment as to be seriously disabled”.

Ms Murray said that, overall, she is “broadly welcoming” of the new regulations.

She also described the 12-week limit for abortion for any reason whatsoever was “arbitrary” and risks inhibiting some women from accessing services later in term.

The government says that, in 2018, 8.7% of abortions on grounds of foetal abnormality took place after 24 weeks in England and Wales.

However it also indicated that this represents a much tinier fraction of the total number of abortions, saying abortions after 12 weeks account for just 8% of the total in England and Wales.

Ms Murray said that in her experience she has never known an abortion to take place after 24 weeks.

As to whether it is possible to still abort a foetus until birth, she said: “Technically? Yes. Technically it is.”

However, she said the number of abortions performed after 24 weeks is “miniscule”.

She said thought that she “can’t see a situation where in Northern Ireland it would occur... I think the reality in terms of screening and diagnostics we have available through foetal medicine, these foetuses are being identified early enough to allow decision-making and for an abortion to occur before 24 weeks”.

“The reality here is that if we’re performing an abortion because of foetal anomaly, those anomalies are detected usually at the 20 week structural scan...

“There’s obviously situations where it might happen, but in the vast majority of cases these procedures will be performed before 24 weeks.”

Ms Murray also said that the new rules do offer “a legal framework for conscientious objection which didn’t exist before because the 1967 act did not extend to Northern Ireland”.

When it comes to estimating the number of her members who would object to performing abortions, she said it is very difficult to give an accurate figure.

But she said as a very rough estimate, she said “I would say 10% or less across the region” had indicated an objection.