Abortion Northern Ireland: Pro-choice groups demand Health Minister Robin Swann commissions abortion services ‘now’

Pro-choice campaign groups have demanded Health Minister Robin Swann move swiftly to commission full abortion services - and lambasted him for his alleged track record on the issue.

They were speaking after the Secretary of State laid regulations today that remove the need for the Department of Health to seek Executive Committee approval in relation to commissioning abortion services in Northern Ireland. This means the Department of Health will have no further barriers to commission and fund services.

Alliance for Choice welcome the announcement from the Secretary of State that he will immediately take further legislative steps to ensure abortion services are commissioned for NI. The group said it is “disappointed that neither the NI Executive nor the Department of Health have progressed any commissioning of abortion services since 2019 when abortion was decriminalised in the North. We are hopeful that the removal of the Executive block will allow the Minister for Health, Robin Swann, to do the job of commissioning, however we note his record and welcome the intervention of the SOSNI if inaction continues.”

Spokeswoman Naomi Connor said: “We are delighted that the Secretary of State for NI has kept to his word, we are wary that the Department of Health will continue their refusal and we are therefore calling for a timeline from the Department. We regularly have to help people who struggle with access to abortion in NI, either because there is no official Department of Health information available or they fall outside of the current 10 week limit on Early Medical Abortion. This is unacceptable.” Her colleague Emma Campbell added that “Robin Swann must now act”.

Health Minister Robin Swann has been criticised by pro-choice campaigners

Grainne Teggart, Campaigns Manager for Amnesty International UK, said: “The Health Minister has failed at every opportunity to prioritise the delivery of this healthcare. We urge the Secretary of State to not wait and urgently establish and embed abortion services. Until this is done, access will remain in a fragile state.”

Ruairi Rowan of Informing Choices NI, added that people in the Western Trust area are now once again able to access early medical abortions - previously suspended due to staff shortages - but which is now being facilitated by neighbouring trust areas.

Mr Swann and the UUP have declined to respond.