Published Thursday, 17 October 2013
The department was responding to concerns that it was unclear if those who supported a woman in getting an abortion elsewhere would face criminal prosecution.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said on Wednesday he would meet the Public Prosecution Service to clarify legal implications for healthcare staff.
Concern was raised about a "grey area" in the draft guidelines over the legality of someone actively advocating or promoting a termination outside Northern Ireland.
The Department of Health said the origins of reference to a "grey area" stemmed from a judgement of Lord Justice Girvan delivered in 2009 in a judicial review.
"He suggested the department should deal with was whether giving advice about abortion services in Great Britain was lawful provided abortion is not advocated or promoted," the department explained
On Thursday PPS Director Barra McGrory said that there was no "grey area" and knew of no criminal offence that could be committed when someone is giving advice due to serious foetal abnormality.
He said: "In the circumstances in which someone in the tragic situation of having to travel to England for a termination of a pregnancy on the grounds of foetal abnormality, it is difficult to envisage circumstances where the criminal law would be engaged because such a termination would be lawful in the jurisdiction."
The debate was prompted over two recent high-profile cases of pregnant women whose unborn babies had fatal foetal abnormalities who were denied terminations in Northern Ireland.
As the law stands, foetal abnormality is not a reason for abortion in the region.
The Health Department later clarified the draft guidance was not dealing with this situation.
"The Director of Public Prosecutions said he could envisage no situation where someone giving an individual advice or assistance in travelling to England for an abortion because of serious foetal abnormality would fall foul of the criminal law. The draft guidance was not dealing with this situation," the department said.
A Health department spokeswoman explained that cases where a person actively encourages someone to have a termination have not yet been tested by the courts.
"The 'grey area' in the guidelines refers to whether it is lawful to 'advocate or promote' an abortion in another jurisdiction," she explained.
"That is, to actively encourage someone to have a termination. This has not been considered by the Courts in Northern Ireland.
She added: "It is not unlawful to provide information about services in other jurisdictions, and it is not unlawful to travel to GB."
The revised guidelines will be brought before the Northern Ireland Executive within the coming weeks.
© UTV News