Westminster urged to intervene over NI abortion services

Houses of Parliament
Terminations were legalised in the region following legislation at Westminster.

The Government has been urged to intervene over abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Terminations were legalised in the region following legislation at Westminster.

Individual health trusts have set up temporary early medical abortion pathways , but Northern Ireland-wide abortion services have not yet been commissioned by the Department of Health.

Legal action has been initiated by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission chief Les Allamby over the situation.

Karin Smyth, shadow Northern Ireland minister, has written to the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis demanding that the Government takes action to ensure services are commissioned in Northern Ireland urgently.

The letter comes a short time after Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker told the House of Commons that he would "consider further legislative action" if services are not commissioned.

Ms Smyth said women and girls in Northern Ireland are being "denied their legal rights".

"Abortion services have not been commissioned or funded in Northern Ireland. Nor has any guidance to health and social care trusts on the provision of abortion services been issued," she wrote in her letter to Mr Lewis.

"This is leaving vulnerable women and girls to use unsafe, unregulated services or travel to high-risk areas in the middle of this pandemic.

"This is cruel and everyday that passes denies women and girls a safe, local service.

"Safe, legal abortions are the law of the land and these women and girls must have their rights upheld. I welcome the commitment of the minister, Robin Walker, to consider legislative action and that he stands ready to act.

"But I would stress that the situation is urgent, there is no reason to delay. We have a legal, and moral duty to act now and Labour will do all we can to support."

A near blanket ban on terminations in the region ended in 2019 when MPs intervened and voted through a law change.

Although the Stormont Assembly backed a motion that rejected the "imposition" of the new laws on the region, it had no impact on the legal status of the regulations and the guidelines that provide the legal framework for the provision of abortion services approved.

A UK Government spokesperson said: "The health and safety of women and girls remains paramount in accessing abortion services.

"While we note some services are available locally, we remain disappointed that the Northern Ireland Executive and Department of Health have not acted to ensure they deliver on these rights following the earlier change to the law.

"We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, including considering further legislative action at Westminster.

"The secretary of state takes his moral and legal obligations in this regard very seriously, and is committed to ensuring his duties are complied with in full at the earliest opportunity."