Church leaders in Northern Ireland have hit out at “immoral” plans to introduce a fully-funded abortion service within weeks.
While abortion remains a devolved matter, introducing the service has been delayed by the latest impasse at Stormont.
Mr Lewis said that he had a “legal and moral duty” to intervene because of the lack of progress.
But the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) described the latest development as “a continued assault on the preciousness of life”. A joint statement was issued by Reverend Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly, and Reverend Daniel Kane, Convenor of PCI’s Council for Public affairs.
They said: “We never thought Northern Ireland would lead the way with such immoral and liberal laws, having had legislation previously that sought to strike a careful balance between protecting the life of the mother and the unborn child. We see today’s intervention by Mr Lewis as not only unjust, but a continued assault on the preciousness of life.”
The ministers also claimed the NI Secretary was ignoring 79% of the 21,000 people who responded to the Northern Ireland Office’s 2019 abortion consultation, opposing the plans.
A statement from the Free Presbyterian Church said it was “deeply concerned” by the plans.
“To hear the Secretary of State classify abortion as a health care issue for women is beyond credulity,” it said. “The Bible on a number of occasions treats children in the womb as fully human. We wonder how we have got into a position where killing defenceless human beings became a ‘human right’?”
They added: “We are concerned that the flouting of God’s law will further increase God’s judgement upon our nation.”
The Church said it was also “shocked” that Mr Lewis would bypass Stormont to bring in such plans.
"If this is the way things are to be done then devolution and the views of the majority of people in Northern Ireland which are still against abortion mean nothing,” the Church said.
"We ask him if he is really going to continue to undermine democracy in Northern Ireland by imposing things that the people do not want? To simply force unwanted doctrinaire regulations on people is not a way to ensure stability or confidence in democracy in our community.”
A statement from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church said “the assault on biblical standards of morality in our Province continues apace”.
The Church stated that in 2019, Westminster had “foisted a draconian and heartless abortion regime” on Northern Ireland at a time when the Assembly wasn’t sitting.
“Now the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, has added insult to injury by instructing the Department of Health to set up a fully-funded abortion service for Northern Ireland within days or weeks,” it said.
“He claims he has a ‘moral duty’ to do so. The irony of that comment will not be lost on the many people, right across the community divide, who regard abortion on demand as grossly immoral and who will therefore be appalled at this latest development.”
The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is well-known, but it has yet to comment on the latest development.
Abortion has been legal here since April 2020, but it is mainly limited to early medical terminations in the early stages of pregnancy. Anyone seeking abortion services that are yet to be provided in Northern Ireland can access services in Great Britain and is funded by the Department of Health.