NI Health Minister says he will not act unilaterally on abortion

(Photo: Reuters)

Northern Ireland's Health Minister has promised he will not act unilaterally in expanding abortion services in the province.

Robin Swann said he would instead bring the matter to the Stormont Executive before any decision is made.

The commitment was made in response to a threat of last-minute court action by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) a day before Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, was expected to issue a directive moving forward with the expansion of abortion services.

The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021 give Lewis the power to side-step the devolved administration and direct Stormont ministers to implement a "fully-funded abortion service".

SPUC is challenging the legality of this in a case due to be heard in October.

Liam Gibson, SPUC Northern Ireland Political Officer, accused Westminster of a "devolution power grab".

He said: "Abortion is not healthcare, it is an act of lethal violence directed at an unborn child.

"It is essential that the pro-life people of Northern Ireland contact the Health Minister and the Office of the First and deputy First Ministers and urge them to take no action to implement Mr Lewis's abortion agenda, at least until the courts have had the opportunity to decide on the lawfulness of the powers the Secretary of State has conferred upon himself.

"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."

Westminster voted in 2019 to drastically alter Northern Ireland's abortion laws, making it available on demand within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and widely available until the 24th week. The changes also permit abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities.

The changes have not yet been implemented, though, due to disagreements over the legislation in the Executive.