UK government to commission abortion services in Northern Ireland

UK government to commission abortion services in Northern Ireland

The UK government has announced it will commission abortion services in Northern Ireland following the failure of the devolved Department of Health to do so.

The commissioning of abortion services follows the making of regulations in May 2022 which provided the UK government with the same powers as a Northern Ireland minister to ensure services are available in line with international human rights law.

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Three years on from the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland, we will be ensuring the commissioning of abortion services by the UK Government.

“It is unfortunate that we have been forced to commission these services, in what should be a matter for the Department of Health to implement.

“However, the government has been left with no other option, as women and girls of Northern Ireland have been without safe and high quality services, with many having to travel to the rest of the UK to access healthcare to which they are legally entitled. That is unacceptable.”

He added: “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 UK government will ensure that appropriate funding is available to enable healthcare professionals to take the necessary steps to ensure that essential training and recruitment of staff can progress, and services can be implemented.”

The announcement has been welcomed by Amnesty International UK and Informing Choices NI, who have campaigned for access to abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland deputy director, said: “Today’s announcement marks a critical step towards ending the denial of abortion healthcare.

“Westminster has yet again had to intervene to ensure people aren’t denied their right to abortion, exposing the clear failure of health minister Robin Swann to protect and support women and healthcare professionals.

“It is essential that the allocation of necessary funds for these services is put in place at the same time as commissioned services are established, so they can run effectively and are accessible — not just in law but in practice.

“The government must also run an information campaign to ensure people are aware of their right to abortion and how to access services — our poll last week showed just how few people in Northern Ireland realise abortion is now lawful.”

Ruairi Rowan, Informing Choices NI’s director of advocacy and policy, said: “Following the establishment of early medical abortion care in Northern Ireland demand for our pregnancy counselling services increased by 80 per cent.

“However, additional funding from the Department of Health to match the increase in referrals has not been provided. As a result, women have been denied timely access to pregnancy choices counselling.

“It is imperative that the UK government acts quickly to provide women with support when considering their pregnancy options, as well as following the loss of a pregnancy.”

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