DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has warned that a UK Government intervention on abortion laws in Northern Ireland will damage the credibility of powersharing.
His comments came ahead of an anticipated announcement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, this week on the rollout of services in the region.
Individual health trusts are now offering abortion services, but Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has not centrally commissioned services due to an ongoing impasse at Stormont.
Health Minister Robin Swann, of the Ulster Unionist Party, has affirmed that he is unable to centrally commission services without the approval of the five-party coalition in the Northern Irish Assembly, which would require the two largest parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – to agree to discuss the issue.
In March, the Government intervened to grant the Northern Ireland Secretary sweeping new powers to impose expanded abortion access on Northern Ireland.
While Mr Lewis is yet to act on these new powers, he is expected to outline his future plans before Parliament goes into summer recess at the end of this week.
In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster, Sir Jeffrey expressed his view that the Northern Ireland Executive, and not the Government in Westminster, should decide on what is an officially devolved issue.
He also expressed support for an Executive sub-committee to examine the issues around the commissioning of services.
He said: “I think that the Secretary of State in those circumstances should enable or allow the Executive to get on with the work that it has been elected to do and to consider these most sensitive of issues”.
He went on: “I just don’t think that it helps devolution and the credibility of our political institutions when the Westminster Government is constantly going over our heads and imposing things that are properly a matter for our local electoral representatives to take decisions on”.
“The Executive is supposed to operate on a consensus basis and therefore, when it comes to even the most sensitive of issues, there’s a need to try and get consensus”, he said.
“It’s not right that some impose their views on others”.
Proposals to introduce commissioning of abortion services and ‘DIY’ home abortion to Northern Ireland
In May, the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Robin Swann, drew criticism after the BBC reported that he had brought forward a proposal to the Northern Ireland Executive that would have introduced ‘DIY’ home abortion to Northern Ireland, whereby a woman performs her own medical abortion at home without in-person medical supervision.
Mr Swann is also a self-proclaimed “pro-life” politician.
As recently as 2018 he said: “I am pro-life and I am on record as such. I am reassured that our party stance on abortion, as being a matter of conscience, is the right one”.
The full commissioning of abortion services in Northern Ireland would include abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities, de facto abortion on demand to 24 weeks and allowing sex-selective abortions on demand through to 12 weeks.
How Northern Ireland’s discriminatory abortion law came about
In 2019, in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose a new abortion regime on the province, despite all of the Northern Ireland MPs who were present voting against the proposals.
Despite the global coronavirus crisis and the Northern Ireland Assembly returning on 11 January 2020, the Conservative Government announced that they would proceed with imposing an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland on 31 March 2020.
The House of Lords and the House of Commons gave their final approval of the Government’s decision to impose an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland earlier this year. Many MPs and Peers, including those with a ‘pro-choice’ voting record, spoke out against the unfair imposition of abortion services in Northern Ireland, given that the issue is a devolved one.
This was despite a reconvened Northern Ireland Assembly passing a motion opposing the regulations. Additionally, across the two votes held, 75 of Northern Ireland’s 90 MLAs voted against the provisions in the regulations allowing discriminatory disability abortion up to birth.
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said: “We welcome this statement from the DUP’s new leader, and sincerely hope that it sets the tone for the Party’s approach to Westminster’s looming threats to impose abortion services on the region”.
“Being a devolved issue, it is vital that Westminster takes into account the wishes of Northern Irish voters and their representatives in Stormont who have consistently demonstrated their opposition to the imposition of an extreme abortion regime on the region”.