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Stormont Health Minister pressed to commission abortion services

Terminations were legalised following legislation passed by Westminster.

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Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

Health Minister Robin Swann has been pressed to commission abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Terminations were legalised in the region following legislation passed by Westminster when the Stormont Assembly was collapsed.

Individual health trusts have set up temporary early medical abortion pathways but Northern Ireland-wide abortion services have not yet been commissioned by the Department of Health.

Mr Swann has argued that, as a controversial issue, it is for the Executive to agree to set up the services.

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Anti-abortion protesters at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

Anti-abortion protesters at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

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Anti-abortion protesters at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

The issue sharply divides opinion in Northern Ireland with high-profile campaigns both for and against the liberalisation of abortion legislation.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill accused Mr Swann of “failing” women and health trusts.

“Since the framework came into effect there has been a legal responsibility on the health minister to ensure that he provides modern compassionate healthcare and abortion services and that they’re provided via the health trusts here,” she told MLAs on Monday.

“I believe that his failure to do so is not only failing women who have a legal and a human right to compassionate healthcare services, but he’s also failing his own health trusts, who have a right to expect leadership from their minister.”

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Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

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Michelle O’Neill (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

She added: “The minister should end the delay and fulfil his legal responsibilities to make these services available to women.

“His failure to do so to date is totally unacceptable.

“I think the framework and the legislation are crystal clear, it is the legal responsibility of the Minister for Health to ensure these services are provided.

“And the longer the delay is, the longer he’s denying women their access to compassionate, modern and vital health care services.

“So this needs to end and the minister must act.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said early medical abortion pathways are available across all Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland.

“The Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No 2) Regulations 2020 provided a new legal basis for medical professionals in Northern Ireland to terminate pregnancies lawfully,” they said.

“Under the Regulations the department is not required to commission the relevant services, however the department has advised Trusts that the Regulations require such terminations to be carried out on Health and Social Care premises.

“EMA pathways were put in place by Trusts starting from April 2020 in line with their statutory duties and functions to provide medical care and treatment in accordance with the needs of patients and subject to the law.

“Under the Ministerial Code any matter which is significant or controversial and clearly outside the scope of the Programme for Government must be brought to the Executive for consideration.

“As proposals brought forward by the Health Minister in line with these criteria for an early medical abortion service remain under consideration by the Executive, it is not possible at present to give a timescale for the introduction of a fully commissioned abortion service.”

Last week DUP MLA Paul Givan launched a legislative attempt to repeal an aspect of the recently liberalised abortion laws.

His Private Member’s Bill targets a specific provision that allows terminations up to birth in cases of serious non-fatal disabilities.

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