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Government to set out Northern Ireland abortion plans 


Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis. Photo: Niall/Carson/PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis. Photo: Niall/Carson/PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis. Photo: Niall/Carson/PA

The government is expected to set out further steps on the commissioning of abortion services for Northern Ireland this week. 

A Westminster source told BBC News NI the government would set out what it will do next towards the end of this week after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis in March took new powers allowing him to direct Stormont to act after disagreements within the five-party Executive.

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws changed last year after Westminster acted during the absence of devolution but the commissioning of services has been stalled due to the disagreements.

In May, proposals from Ulster Unionist Health Minister Robin Swann on commissioning of abortion services were blocked from Executive discussion by the DUP.

That same month, the government said if the Department of Health here did not take “concrete steps” towards commissioning services before Parliament’s summer recess, it stood “ready to act”.

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The Department of Health has maintained that the matter is “controversial” and any decision on abortion services must be made by the whole Executive.

But regulations state the Secretary of State is acting as required to uphold legal and human rights duties on Northern Ireland abortion services.

The DUP is opposed to abortion and has said action on the issue by Mr Lewis would have “serious consequences for devolution”. But Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance have said they would support the commissioning of services being imposed by Westminster if a resolution was not achieved within the Executive.

According to figures from the Department of Health, 1,556 terminations have taken place in Northern Ireland since March 2020 when abortion laws changed, allowing terminations to take place in some circumstances.

But health trusts have been only carrying out limited services, meaning some women seeking an abortion beyond 10 weeks in their pregnancy have had to travel to Great Britain to access services.

The delay in commissioning a fully-funded and staffed model is currently being challenged in a judicial review at Belfast’s High Court.

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