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Brandon Lewis ‘disappointed’ over High Court decision saying he failed to implement abortion services


Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. Credit: Stefan Rousseau

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. Credit: Stefan Rousseau

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis. Credit: Stefan Rousseau

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has said he is “profoundly disappointed” by a High Court decision that said he failed to implement abortion services.

Mr Justice Colton said Mr Lewis had been “negligible” in his engagement with the Department of Health on the matter between April 2020 and March 2021.

Reacting to the ruling on Twitter, Mr Lewis said he believed that women in Northern Ireland should be entitled to the same reproductive rights as women across the rest of the UK.

He added that the UK Government remained the only ones to have taken “tangible steps” to make abortion services available in Northern Ireland.

By March 2021 he said he made further regulations to introduce services when “no progress had been made by the Executive”.

“I am hugely disappointed that the Executive and Department of Health are continuing to seem to wilfully neglect the welfare and rights of women and girls in NI,” he said.

The High Court declaration had been made following a challenge by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

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Although MPs had passed legislation to decriminalise abortions in 2019, there is still no centralised model for providing a service in Northern Ireland.

The current laws state that terminations are allowed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and in limited circumstances up to 24 weeks.

Brandon Lewis was legally obliged to make sure new recommendations were implemented in a timely manner, but the direction from Westminster did not come into force until March 31 this year.

According to the judge, Mr Lewis had been well aware of the problems facing those seeking to access abortion services in the previous 12 months, but his attitude only seemed to shift after the “external pressure” of legal action.

NIHRC c hief commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick welcomed the ruling.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey said it should be “a wake-up call” to the Secretary of State and the Executive .

“Despite the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland almost two years ago, the provision of these healthcare services has been repeatedly delayed. This repeated denial of women’s right to reproductive healthcare is completely unjustifiable.”

She also welcomed that her Safe Access Zones Bill, which seeks to create protest exclusion zones outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland, had passed its latest Assembly hurdle this week.

Pro-life campaigners are currently taking separate legal action against Mr Lewis’ right to impose a deadline on Stormont to establish a full abortion service.

Commenting on yesterday’s ruling, a spokesperson for the Society for Protection of Unborn Children said the verdict revealed London’s “blatant disregard” for devolution.

“In 2020, Brandon Lewis attempted to impose an abortion regime so extreme that it allows abortion up to birth on grounds of disability as well as other circumstances. Such a regime would never have gained majority support in the Stormont Assembly.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said they would study the ruling and noted there was “clear legal advice” that Executive approval is required for the commissioning of abortion services.

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