Clare Bailey: We are exporting irls to access healthcare that should be available in NI

I read with some confusion the comments made by Jim Allister with regards to the UK government's plans to offer girls under the age of 16 from NI access to free abortions in England ('˜Shock at offer of free abortions for NI minors,' Nov 16).

Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, 11:47 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:18 am

Mr Allister described the decision to fund abortions for children under the age of consent for sexual activity as “deeply troubling”.

What I find deeply troubling is that a young woman would be denied an abortion if she found herself pregnant as a result of sex that she was not legally able to consent to in the first place.

Surely this would compound an already desperate situation, and would force young women and girls into reproductive slavery?

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The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states that the UK government and devolved administrations should ‘decriminalise abortion to ensure that girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services, review legislation with a view to guaranteeing the best interests of pregnant adolescents and ensure that their views are always heard and respected in abortion-related decisions’.

It also states that ‘All adolescents should have access to free, confidential, adolescent-responsive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health services, information and education.’

With regards to the issue of parental consent, patient confidentiality is always paramount and the General Medical Council’s advice is quite specific in stating that ‘medical practitioners cannot persuade the young person to tell their parents or to allow you to tell them. Any refusal should be respected.’

There is also long-existing case law (Gillick v West Norfolk, 1984) which states that if the child is deemed competent, regardless of age, health professionals will treat that young person.

Parental rights come secondary to the young person’s right to make their own decisions when they reach a sufficient understanding and intelligence. The best interests of the child are always paramount in these considerations.

There are no definitive solutions concerning underage pregnancies, but what we do need is robust relationship and sexuality education, greater access to contraception and also access to abortion healthcare here in Northern Ireland.

Again we are exporting young women and girls to access healthcare that should be available to them here at home.

Clare Bailey MLA, Green Party NI