A Northern Ireland pro-life group has threatened to take “last minute” legal action against Westminster plans to introduce abortion services in the region.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said they are “ready to go to court within hours”, ahead of an expected announcement on Thursday by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis on the next steps to commission abortion services here.
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 on July 22, it stood “ready to act”.
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 SPUC group are behind a campaign to raise £100,000 to fund the challenge to the abortion regulations, with legal hearings expected to be heard in the autumn.
The group said on Tuesday they were “ready to go to court within hours in a bid to stop Mr Lewis from issuing directions before the case can be heard”.
“If this power grab by the Westminster Government is allowed to stand it will condemn to death an untold number of unborn babies and also fatally undermine the devolution settlement,” said Liam Gibson.
“London is stripping locally elected ministers of power and denying the people an accountable government with a democratic mandate.
“The situation means that enormous powers have been vested in a politician who is not answerable to the people of Northern Ireland.”
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.
In a statement, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that the rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland are upheld and that they have safe and lawful access to high-quality abortion services and post-abortion care locally in Northern Ireland.
“Despite making the Abortion Regulations in March 2020, services have still not been formally commissioned, supported or funded, and there has been no guidance issued or official support measures put in place. The legal duties are that the Secretary of State must act to ensure that services are commissioned and relevant guidance and support measures are properly delivered."