UK Government Will Force Northern Ireland To Implement Abortion Services "Sooner Rather Than Later"
Brandon Lewis has warned Stormont he is running out of patience over its failure to implement abortion services in Northern Ireland and will not wait much longer to intervene.
The secretary of state for Northern Ireland told PoliticsHome that while he wanted to give the Executive and Assembly "space" to roll out abortion services, he was "not going to wait very long".
MPs voted in 2019 to relax abortion laws in Northern Ireland while Stormont was suspended.
However, three years on, the Northern Irish Executive still hasn't made full abortion provision available to women in the province, with many still travelling to England to receive the service.
Stormont has not been able to agree on how to roll out abortion provision across Northern Ireland, with the health ministry claiming it is a matter for the Executive to deal with.
The inaction has prompted a legal challenge from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which says Lewis, the Executive and Northern Ireland's health department are all to blame.
Speaking to PoliticsHome in Belfast earlier this week, Lewis insisted the situation needed to change.
“The government fundamentally believes that all women should have access to good-quality health care anywhere in the UK," he explained.
"It is absolutely abhorrent and unacceptable that some women in Northern Ireland are going through what they’re going through. There are some genuinely harrowing stories of women traveling to England to get services there. They are tear-jerkingly shocking.
"I’m not prepared to see that happen. It shouldn't be happening to anybody.
"They should have access to good quality advice and health care support".
Lewis stressed he would "much rather" the Executive delivered the services as it is a devolved matter. He said he would first look at the plans of First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, who were approved by MLAs earlier this week.
However, he warned that this grace period to sort the issue was limited. "I'm not going to wait very long because every week we wait there are women not getting the care they should be receiving," he said.
"So I'll certainly move sooner rather than later".Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, said health trusts and charities in the region were being forced to "provide these services with zero additional support" from Stormont, pinning the blame on Northern Ireland's Minister of Health Robin Swann.
She told PoliticsHome: "We have a postcode lottery for abortion services, where depending on the part of Northern Ireland you live in will depend on the access to the service you receive.
"Abortion is now legal and no-one in need of the service must be refused".
She called on Lewis and the UK government to "act urgently to direct the commission of these services".
"Our politicians will not ensure that women have access to the health care they are lawfully entitled to. Once again, it’s over Westminster to step in and vindicate the rights of women".
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe