Health bodies in Great Britain have issued a joint recommendation that Northern Ireland's new abortion framework should have no restrictions up to 24 weeks gestation.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the Royal College of Midwives and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare all agree that there should be 'no barriers' to women accessing abortion prior to 24 weeks.
This would remove all existing legal protection of a preborn baby in Northern Ireland up to five and a half months gestation.
The health bodies were responding to the Government's consultation about the format that abortion services should take in NI. The consultation asks questions on various aspects of the service, and seeks views on the legal time limit for an abortion.
According to the legislation that changed the law, the new framework must be in place by 31 March.
Out of touch with medical opinion
The stance these bodies adopt on the current definition of viability remains out of touch with more recent medical guidance.
In October last year, guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine was issued stating that doctors should now try to save babies born after just 22 weeks, due to improvements in survival rates.
With new evidence and the availability of new technology, it is surprising that these bodies retain a definition of viability dating back to 1990, which was the last time Parliament voted to change the legal limit for an abortion.
If these proposals are adopted, Northern Ireland could follow Britain in a fundamental inconsistency: in the same hospital, doctors could be fighting to protect the life of a premature baby in one room, while in the other, they are carrying out an abortion.
Affront to devolution
Andrew Cupples, a GP from NI, told the BBC that decisions made about the service there should be left to local representatives:
"It's typical of Great Britain-centric bodies wanting to enforce their model in Northern Ireland,"
"We need a Northern Ireland-centric approach. There's no point in enforcing guidelines which have not been agreed locally and which have not taken into account the local scenarios, the local problems, the local issues and, especially, the local feelings."
CARE Chief Executive, Nola Leach, comments:
“The position being taken by these professional health bodies is deeply regrettable.
“It is striking that GB medical bodies feel the need to interfere, ignoring the views of NI health professionals, many of whom are opposed to the new abortion framework.
“Abortion is a devolved issue and it is up to locally elected MLAs to decide on the exact nature of what the new abortion framework will look like.
“There are two lives that count in a pregnancy and this recommendation ignores completely the rights of the unborn baby.
“We call on MLAs to take action to ensure the new framework does not simply copy GB, but instead reflects the views of many within Northern Ireland who want life-affirming laws.”