The UK Government’s vote on controversial abortion regulations in Northern Ireland has been put on hold.
However, the regulations put forward by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis at the end of March continue to apply.
He was required to submit regulations for Parliament’s approval after Westminster legislated to change abortion laws here last year.
On Thursday night the Government told MPs that next week’s votes would not go ahead.
The Northern Ireland Office is expected to submit redrafted regulations in the coming weeks.
Opponents had criticised the regulations for going further than abortion laws in Britain and the Republic.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc) said: “The rule of law and democratic procedures were brushed aside in a rush to create the most extreme abortion regime in Europe.
“Seventy-nine per cent of the people who responded to the public consultation rejected the Government’s proposals.
“Now that Downing Street has effectively admitted that its regulations are legally flawed, the Prime Minister should realise the decision to force abortion on demand on the people of Northern Ireland against their will lacks all legitimacy.
“Spuc would like to thank everyone who has lobbied Parliament for the withdrawal of these barbaric abortion regulations but we need to maintain pressure on the Government to do the right thing.”
However Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said nothing has changed. “The minor technical issue identified with the regulations does not change anything. Abortion remains legal and can be lawfully carried out in line with the current regulations,” she added.
“The priority remains the commissioning of services. We urge the Department of Health to ensure they are accessible to all who need them without delay. During the Covid-19 pandemic this is all the more urgent, as travel for this healthcare is not viable and so women and girls are being put at risk.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said there is an onus on the Secretary of State to act urgently.
“It was always my belief that the regulations went well beyond what the law required and it was nothing short of disgraceful that the Government was so dismissive of the strong opposition manifest in the responses they received to their consultation,” he said.
“There should be a fundamental rethink by Government on this issue. Northern Ireland doesn’t want and certainly doesn’t need abortion, and it’s time that was recognised.”
A Government spokesperson said: “These regulations came into effect on March 31, 2020 and on that date became the new law on access to abortion services in Northern Ireland.
“Given the unprecedented situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact this has had on Parliamentary proceedings, we intend to remake these regulations on Monday, May 11, giving Parliament an additional 28 sitting days to consider them.
“The UK Government remains under a legal obligation to implement these regulations under section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.”