DUP ‘ready to find locally-agreed solution’ in face of abortion order
The DUP has said it stands ready to “find a locally-agreed way forward” on the issue of abortion, as a fresh row erupted over the issue.
The party made the comments after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis today issued orders both to health minister Robin Swann, and to the Stormont Executive as a whole, basically telling them they must open up a full suite of abortion facilities in the Province.
Mr Lewis was granted the powers to issue orders to Northern Ireland’s political leadership earlier this year by The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2021.
But whilst the above law gave him the authority to issue such orders, it does not actually set out what will happen if the Province’s politicians simply ignore his demands.
The statement from Mr Lewis today was aimed at Robin Swann, the First and deputy First Minister, and the Health and Social Care Board.
He told them to “commission and make abortion services available in Northern Ireland as soon as possible, and no later than March 31, 2022”.
He also ordered them to set up “interim services of early medical abortion, which are at risk of collapse”.
Mr Lewis said that he has “a legal and moral obligation to ensure the women and girls in Northern Ireland are afforded their rights”.
He said that the rules which he imposed on the Province from Westminster (explained in detail in this timeline) ensure “the health and safety of women and girls, and gives clarity and certainty to the healthcare profession, while remaining sensitive to the circumstances in Northern Ireland”.
The history of abortion in Northern Ireland extremely labyrinthine.
But in short, up until recently Northern Ireland’s laws made abortion illegal except when a mother’s life was in danger or there was a serious risk to her physical or mental health.
Although these laws were repealed in 2019, and replaced by a far more relaxed set of rules in 2020, widespread access to abortion in Northern Ireland remains hampered by the fact the health minister has not commissioned a complete raft of services, arguing that he needs the agreement of the five-party Stormont Executive first.
Reacting to Mr Lewis’ statement, a DUP press release in the name of Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart said: “The purpose of devolution is to legislate on issues that fall within its competence. Abortion is one such issue.
“Whilst it is a matter that divides opinion and on which strongly-held views exist, it is important that local politicians are given the time and space to find consensus that reflects local public opinion on this issue.”
She added “cynically, some local parties know that by failing to engage constructively to find that local agreement, that the Government will deliver their objectives by March 2022 at the latest”.
Her statement then concluded: “The DUP stand ready to find a locally agreed way forward. We urge all parties who sit with us in the Northern Ireland Executive to share this intent.”
Asked about minister Swann’s reaction, the Department of Health said it is exploring ways of creating a full suite of abortion services, and how much this will cost – but that once it has done so these plans “will then need to be referred to the Executive in due course for agreement”.
Meanwhile today, a trio of pro-choice groups – the Alliance and Green parties, and Amnesty International – issued statements calling for open access to abortion.
The TUV noted that whilst “Westminster still refuses to take action on the Protocol... they are quite prepared to intervene on abortion” – rendering devolution “pointless”.
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