UK government commissions state funded abortion services in Northern Ireland

Having previously decriminalisd abortion in 2019, during a prior period when the Northern Ireland Assembly was not sitting, the UK government has now commissioned state funded abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Up until now, those women who were over ten weeks pregnant and who therefore were unable to access abortion-inducing pills, have been travelling to England for terminations.

The announcement was released in the context of a written ministerial answer by the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris.

In the answer, Mr Heaton-Harris wrote, “21 October marked the three year anniversary of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.  It is not right that three years on, women and girls in Northern Ireland are still uanble to access the full range of healthcare to which they are lawfully entitled”.

Although the responsibility for funding abortion services is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, Mr Heaton-Harris said, “The UK government will ensure that appropriate funding is available to enable healthcare professionals to take the necessary steps to ensure that essential training and recruitment of staff can progress and services can be implemented”.

With women across the UK now being able to access abortion services, the announcement will end any potential comparison between the position in the United Kingdom and that in the United States following the recent Supreme Court ruling.  Abortion is now banned in 13 US states with as many as half of US states expected to enact gestational limits or bans on the procedure in due course.

The news had not been welcomed by the Democratic Unionist Party who have previously been able to use their position in the Northern Ireland government to block spending to expand abortion services. The party withdrew from the Northern Ireland executive back in February in protest against the Northern Ireland trade protocol, thereby leading to a subsequent period of direct rule of Northern Ireland from London.

Reacting to the news, the DUP MP, Carla Lockhart wrote on Twitter, “Northern Ireland does not support abortion, it never has. It still doesn’t. Shameful decision from the Secretary of State”.

At Westminster, the move has been welcomed, with the Liberal Democrat MP, Layla Moran tweeting, “Good. Now women and girls everywhere in the UK will have equal access to services”.

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