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Northern Ireland: Commissioning of Abortion Services

Volume 721: debated on Monday 24 October 2022

As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I am required under section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019—the NIEF Act— to ensure that the recommendations in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the 2018 report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women—the CEDAW report—are implemented in full.

The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022, which came into force on 20 May 2022, provide the Secretary of State with the same powers as a Northern Ireland Minister or Department for the purpose of ensuring that the recommendations in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the 2018 CEDAW report are implemented.

Today, I am announcing that the UK Government will ensure the commissioning of abortion services.

21 October marked the three-year anniversary of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. It is not right that three years on, women and girls in Northern Ireland are still unable to access the full range of healthcare to which they are lawfully entitled.

The UK Government have been clear that they would commission abortion services if the Department of Health did not act. We regret that this step is needed, in what ought to be a matter for the Department of Health to implement. The Government have been left with no other option, as women and girls have been left without safe and high quality services, with many having to travel to the rest of the UK or turn to the unregulated market to access healthcare to which they are legally entitled. The devolution settlement does not absolve me of my legal obligation to ensure that women and girls can access abortion services in Northern Ireland, as they can in the rest of

the UK.

I will be meeting the chief executives of health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks to ensure these services can be provided. Ultimately, it remains the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive to fund abortion services in Northern Ireland. The UK Government will ensure that appropriate funding is available to enable healthcare professionals to take the necessary steps to ensure that essential training and recruitment of staff can progress, and services can be implemented.

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