The Government has announced plans to proceed with forcing expanded abortion services on Northern Ireland.
In a written statement to Parliament, Brandon Lewis MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, laid out a formal timetable for forcing the commissioning of abortion services.
If abortion services are fully commissioned, disability-selective abortion will be available up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot and Down’s syndrome. It would also see de facto abortion on demand available through to 24 weeks and allow sex-selective abortion through 12 weeks.
Northern Ireland must commission abortion services by March 2022
Brandon Lewis has issued specific directions. The Northern Ireland Department of Health has been directed to continue providing funding to the Central Access Point provided by Informing Choices NI (ICNI). Informing Choices is a lobby group that currently runs a phone line that provides abortion referrals to local abortion services. He has also set 31 March 2022 as the date on which “fully commissioned CEDAW compliant services” must be available.
The Department of Health and the Regional Health and Social Care Board has been directed to:
“Commission, provide and fund abortion services so that they are available in all of the circumstances in which abortions are lawful”. Brandon Lewis expects the Northern Ireland Executive to allocate the funding for the abortion services.
The First Minister and deputy First Minister have been directed to include proposals brought forward by the Department of Health in this regard at the next meeting of the Executive Committee.
1,556 abortions have occurred in Northern Ireland since March 2020, and this number is likely to increase if abortion is fully commissioned in Northern Ireland.
Indeed, according to information gained from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, health officials in Northern Ireland met in December 2019 to discuss how many abortions the region should expect if abortion services were commissioned after Westminster voted to impose abortion on the region in July 2019.
According to notes from the meeting: “Service needs to be scaleable [sic] (if service take-up reaches […] England and Wales levels that figure could be 6,500)”.
Widespread opposition in Northern Ireland
There has been widespread opposition to the imposing of abortion regulations on Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion opposing the regulations that have been imposed on the province by the UK Government. Across the two votes held, 75 of 90 MLAs voted against the provisions in the regulations allowing abortion for non-fatal disabilities. 79% of respondents to the Government consultation on the regulations were opposed to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond what was previously permitted.
An open letter signed by over 18,000 people from Northern Ireland was delivered to the Prime Minister by disability campaigner Heidi Crowter who has Down’s syndrome. The letter called on MPs to oppose the regulations and let the Northern Ireland Assembly decide on abortion law for Northern Ireland.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The Conservative Government, which claims to take a neutral stance on abortion, has today moved forward with directly undermining devolution to force more abortion on Northern Ireland. This is while there is a sitting Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been elected by the people of Northern Ireland, to make decisions on devolved matters including abortion. This extraordinary move is essentially direct rule from Westminster on an immensely sensitive subject, by going much further beyond the minimum legal change required by the CEDAW recommendations”.
“It appears that abortion advocates in the Government are more than willing to ignore Stormont’s devolved powers in their pursuit of abortion expansion, no matter what the cost”.
“The Government is forcing one of the most extreme abortion regimes in Europe on the people of Northern Ireland. This includes disability-selective abortion up to the point of birth for all disabilities, including cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot and Down’s syndrome along with de facto abortion on demand through to 24 weeks and allowing sex-selective abortion through 12 weeks. It’s beyond belief to see the Government claim in their statement that the extreme abortion regime they have chosen to force on Northern Ireland, which goes far beyond what it is legally required to introduce, is ‘sensitive to the circumstances in Northern Ireland’’.
“Parties in Northern Ireland are right to be concerned about the undermining of the devolution settlement. As many have already suggested, quite what is the point of devolution if it can simply be ignored when the Northern Ireland Executive fails to make a decision that Westminster wants them to make?”
“The passing of the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill by such an overwhelming majority of MLAs and the huge public support behind this Bill shows that there is no appetite for further Westminster imposition of abortion on Northern Ireland”.