Northern Ireland news

Human Rights Commission launches legal action on lack of abortion services in NI

The Commission alleges all three have failed to commission and fund abortion services in Northern Ireland.
Rebecca Black, PA

Legal action has been initiated in Northern Ireland over a “lack of access” to abortion services.

A near blanket ban on terminations in the region ended in 2019 when MPs intervened and voted through a law change.

Although the Stormont Assembly backed a motion that rejected the “imposition” of the new laws on the region, it had no impact on the legal status of the regulations, and guidelines that provide the legal framework for the provision of abortion services were approved.

However Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission chief Les Allamby says there are a “lack of commissioned and funded abortion services”.

He has initiated legal action against Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, the Stormont Executive and the Department of Health for “failing to commission and fund abortion services”.

“The commission is deeply concerned at the lack of commissioned and funded abortion services in Northern Ireland, leading to a vacuum for many women and girls seeking such services,” he said.

“One health and care trust recently ceased to provide a service for three months while another has just stopped providing a service, leaving women and girls to travel to the rest of the UK, elsewhere in Ireland, or to use unregulated services.

“The commission has previously sought to engage with the NI Executive and the Department of Health to resolve this issue and is taking this legal action as a last resort.”

Mr Allamby said the commission believes a failure of the Executive and Department of Health to fund and commission services breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has a statutory requirement under the NI (Executive Formation) Act 2019 to ensure that the recommendations of the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women committee are implemented, namely that women have access to free and safe abortions in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The commission wants the department to be permitted to commission and fund the abortion services provided for in the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No 2) Regulations 2020; and expects the Secretary of State to take such legislative action as is necessary to meet his legal duty to ensure this happens, including if necessary to take legislative action.

“The commission has lodged judicial review proceedings in the High Court and awaits the court’s consideration of this matter in the new year.”

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