Legal action launched over lack of abortion services
LEGAL action has been launched against the Secretary of State and Department of Health for the failure to set up abortion services in Northern Ireland more than nine months after terminations were allowed.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) has begun legal action in the High Court, saying that many women are forced to continue to travel to the Republic or Britain to access services.
Abortion on request up to 12 weeks has been legal in the north since last year.
The north's strict abortion laws were overturned on March 31 2020 after MPs voted for a change in the law in 2019.
However, Stormont officials have not yet set up abortion services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The NIHRC said the Department of Health has not commissioned or funded termination services, nor has it issued any guidance to health and social care trusts.
The commission said this has led to disparity in services amongst the five health trusts.
It added that the lack of services is affecting many women and girls and is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"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 said.
It said it had tried to engage with the Executive and the Department of Health and was taking legal action "as a last resort".
Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: "We are deeply disappointed that we are yet again having to take legal action. Our focus is to ensure that human rights are upheld and the law passed in Westminster is implemented in practice. We must never forget this is about a critical health service for women."