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UK Government to take over abortion services in Northern Ireland

The UK Government has announced that it will be commissioning abortion services in Northern Ireland.

As part of an ongoing row between Westminster and the Department of Health in Northern Ireland in which the latter has not fully commissioned abortion services in the province, the Secretary of Health for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, has been given the power to commission abortion throughout the region.

He said on Twitter earlier today: “Today, I have announced the UK Government will commission abortion services in Northern Ireland, following continued inaction from [the Department of Health for Northern Ireland]”.

Sweeping new powers

In an official statement he said: “The UK Government has been clear that it would commission abortion services if the Department of Health did not act… The devolution settlement does not absolve me of my legal obligation to ensure that women and girls can access abortion services in Northern Ireland, as they can in the rest of the UK”.

“I will be meeting the Chief Executives of Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks to ensure these services can be provided. Ultimately, it remains the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive to fund abortion services in Northern Ireland”.

The new powers were granted to the Northern Ireland Secretary earlier this year. During a debate in the House of Lords, Baroness O’Loan said that “the regulations give broad, sweeping powers to the Secretary of State effectively to act as a Northern Ireland Minister without having been appointed as a Minister in accordance with the provisions of the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and without any accountability to the people of Northern Ireland”.

Once abortion services are fully commissione 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.

Abortion was imposed on Northern Ireland in 2020, but the Department of Health for Northern Ireland had not commissioned the service uniformly across the region.

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said: “A little over three years ago, Northern Ireland offered almost full legal protection to unborn children. Since then, Westminster has forced abortion on the region against the will of the electorate and their representatives. Now, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has essentially been made a de facto unelected and unaccountable Minister in Northern Ireland, who will commission abortion as he sees fit. A just society would be introducing greater protections for unborn children against abortion, not lessening the few that remain”.

Dear reader,

You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks. The latest research indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks gestation can survive outside the womb, and this number increases with proactive perinatal care.

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

The majority of the British population support reducing the time limit. Polling has shown that 70% of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Please click the button below to sign the petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to do everything in his power to reduce the abortion time limit.