NI First Minister says he will block attempts to widen abortion services

Both Lives Matter campaigners outside Stormont against the relaxation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland.(Photo: Both Lives Matter)

Northern Ireland's First Minister has said he is looking into his political and legal options to stop the expansion of abortion services being imposed on the province by Westminster.

According to the Press Association, Paul Givan has sought legal advice on how he can "resist" powers handed to Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that allow him to direct NI ministers on the implementation of a "fully-funded abortion service".

Givan said he had spoken to Lewis to tell him "he shouldn't do this" and "that it was wrong for him to do it".

"I was disappointed whenever he proceeded in issuing that direction," said Givan.

"We are taking legal advice now as to the implications of that legal action that he has taken and what our options legally are to resist that.

"It certainly is my intention to resist what the Secretary of State has done by way of a direction but I need to look at all of my options, both politically and legally, whenever it comes to this particular issue."

Abortion laws were relaxed by Westminster in 2019 while Stormont was suspended.

In comments to BBC Northern Ireland, Givan said he was prepared to run the risk of being taken to court for blocking directions from Westminster.

NI Health Minister Robin Swann has promised not to act unilaterally in the implementation of the changed regulations after a threat of legal action by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).

The pro-life group has called Westminster's actions "a devolution power grab".

SPUC is challenging the legality of the powers given to Lewis in a case set to be heard in October.

"If the London Government is able to impose an agenda which will condemn to death an untold number of unborn babies it will also fatally undermine the devolution settlement by stripping locally elected Ministers of power and denying the people an accountable government," said SPUC's Northern Ireland Political Officer, Liam Gibson.