UK Government to take over abortion services in Northern Ireland

UK Government to take over abortion services in Northern Ireland

The UK Government has announced that it will be commissioning abortion services in Northern Ireland.

As part of an ongoing row between Westminster and the Department of Health in Northern Ireland in which the latter has not fully commissioned abortion services in the province, the Secretary of Health for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, has been given the power to commission abortion throughout the region.

In an official statement he said: “The UK Government has been clear that it would commission abortion services if the Department of Health did not act… The devolution settlement does not absolve me of my legal obligation to ensure that women and girls can access abortion services in Northern Ireland, as they can in the rest of the UK”.

“I will be meeting the Chief Executives of Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks to ensure these services can be provided. Ultimately, it remains the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive to fund abortion services in Northern Ireland”.

The new powers were granted to the Northern Ireland Secretary earlier this year. During a debate in the House of Lords, Baroness O’Loan said that “the regulations give broad, sweeping powers to the Secretary of State effectively to act as a Northern Ireland Minister without having been appointed as a Minister in accordance with the provisions of the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and without any accountability to the people of Northern Ireland”.

Once abortion services are fully commissione disability-selective abortion will be available up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot and Down’s syndrome. It would also see de facto abortion on demand available through to 24 weeks and allow sex-selective abortion through 12 weeks.

Abortion was imposed on Northern Ireland in 2020, but the Department of Health for Northern Ireland had not commissioned the service uniformly across the region.