Northern Ireland Secretary of State moves to commission abortion services

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis talks to UTV Political Editor Tracey Magee for View From Stormont.
Brandon Lewis has been frustrated by the lack of action on abortion services.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is to take further legislative steps to ensure abortion services are commissioned in Northern Ireland.

Laws passed in Westminster during the Assembly's collapse introduced abortion services for the region in April 2020. However, treatment has been limited and trusts have had to suspend services due to a lack of funding.

A political deadlock has held up the commissioning of a central service for the whole region.

The DUP, which is opposed to abortion, has refused to agree to the issue being tabled on the agenda of the ministerial executive.

Brandon Lewis said: "Women and girls of Northern Ireland must have access to safe, high-quality abortion services in Northern Ireland, as is their right.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that the Executive and Department of Health have failed women and girls, meaning that they cannot currently access the same basic abortion healthcare that is available to women and girls in the rest of the UK.

“That’s why I am acting to remove any further barriers to delivering services."

He added: “The Department of Health must drive forward the commissioning of abortion services without further delay to ensure that safe abortion becomes embedded into the health and social care system in Northern Ireland.”

The Secretary of State intervened last July and ordered the Department of Health to get Executive approval for services by March. The department has said it is unable to act without a functioning Executive.

The regulations laid on Thursday will remove the need for the Department of Health to seek Executive approval for commissioning abortion services and allow the health minister to act.

"This means the Department of Health will have no further barriers to commission and fund services," a UK Government spokesperson said.

"The UK Government is steadfast in its belief that, as a devolved matter, the Department of Health should drive forward the commissioning of abortion services without further delay.

"Today’s regulations will also allow the government to intervene if there is further inaction delivering safe and high-quality abortion services. The Secretary of State will be seeking a clear and unambiguous commitment from the Minister for Health Robin Swann that he will progress this matter without further delay.

"If the Department of Health does not commission and fund abortion services as directed, the regulations give the UK Government the power to do anything that a Northern Ireland Minister or department could do for the purpose of ensuring that abortion services are provided as decided by Parliament in 2019."

The Northern Ireland Office has established a team of medical experts to ensure the Secretary of State has all the information required and to work alongside the Department of Health and report back to him on progress.

The Department of Health has been approached for comment.

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