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British MPs support moves for UK Government to commission Northern Ireland abortion services

The bill had sparked debate on whether the UK Government was respecting devolution in Northern Ireland.

UK Parliament in London
UK Parliament in London
Image: PA

BRITISH MPs HAVE  formally approved moves to allow the UK Government to directly commission abortion services in Northern Ireland.

The House of Commons voted 215 to 70, majority 145, in favour of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022.

Abortion legislation in Northern Ireland was liberalised in 2019 following laws passed by Westminster at a time when the powersharing government at Stormont had collapsed.

But while individual health trusts in Northern Ireland currently offer services on an ad-hoc basis, the Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the services due to a political impasse at Stormont on the issue.

The DUP, which is opposed to abortion, had refused to agree to the issue being tabled on the agenda of the ministerial executive.

The UK Government laid regulations at Parliament last month that removed the need for the Department of Health to seek the approval of the wider executive to commission the services.

They have now been approved by MPs and peers.

Debate over the legislation grew heated yesterday, with members of the House of Lords accusing the intervention in Northern Ireland of being “constitutional sabotage”.

Lady Nuala O’Loan, opposing Lewis’s ability to implement abortion services, said: “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… and without any accountability to the people of Northern Ireland.”

Branding the situation as “shameful”, former Labour MP Baroness Kate Hoey said: “When it suits the Government, they want devolution and they believe in devolution.”

“When it does not suit them, they take away devolution, and that is what this is about today. Forget the issue of abortion – this is about the constitutional sabotage of devolution and the 1998 Act.”

In defense of the measure, Conservative party peer Lord Jonathan Caine said it was “unacceptable” there are women and girls unable to access abortion services in Northern Ireland and said some critics used constitutional arguments about devolution as “a screen” for their blanket opposition to terminations.

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Lord Caine added: “The Government and the Secretary of State remain under a statutory duty to provide access to abortion services”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis last week suggested a telemedicine abortion option is set to be introduced in Northern Ireland when services are fully rolled out.

The treatment option allows women to take a medical abortion pill following a virtual consultation with a clinical professional.

Additional reporting from Jamie Mc Carron

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