NI Secretary ‘considering further legislative action’ over abortion services

Rebecca Black, PA
·2-min read

The Northern Ireland Secretary is “considering further legislative action” to see new abortion laws implemented in the region.

The law was liberalised last year to allow terminations following action taken at Westminster.

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

The Andrew Marr Show
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann previously said the issue is controversial and therefore he cannot act alone and requires agreement by the Executive.

Brandon Lewis intends to lay new regulations in Parliament next week to allow him to direct Mr Swann’s department to commission the services, the Guardian has reported.

Mr Lewis was reportedly prompted by concerns many women are still travelling to Great Britain to access services.

A UK Government spokesperson confirmed there is disappointment that full abortion services have not yet been commissioned, adding “further legislative action at Westminster” is being considered.

It is understood DUP leader Arlene Foster met with Mr Lewis earlier on Thursday on the matter.

Abortion is an issue which sharply divides opinion in Northern Ireland with strong pro-choice and anti-abortion lobbies.

Northern Ireland abortion laws demonstration
Protesters stage a silent demonstration at Stormont against the liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)

On Monday a motion by DUP MLA Paul Givan seeking to restrict abortions in cases of non-fatal disabilities passed its second reading.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill accused the DUP of attempting to “roll back abortion progress” but her MLAs abstained on that vote.

Separately, the party has announced its intention to bring a paper to the Executive calling for Mr Swann to commission full abortion services.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We remain disappointed that the Department of Health and Northern Ireland Executive have failed to commission full abortion services, following the change to the law last March.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, including considering further legislative action at Westminster, given the nature of the legal duties on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in this context.”