Abortion to be forced on Northern Ireland – again

19 March 2021

The UK government is reportedly taking unprecedented action to force Northern Ireland to ‘speed up abortion services’, giving the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland new powers to compel the devolved assembly to implement the legislation.

The news sparked an immediate response from the DUP, the Guardian reports, warning that the party would “vigorously oppose” any further legislative push to liberalise abortion in the region.

Imposing unwanted abortion laws

The law on abortion in Northern Ireland changed last year following intervention by the UK government to try to restore devolution.

What followed were the most extreme abortion laws in Europe, where abortion is now legal in all circumstances for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. If the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s mental or physical health, abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks.

Yet in June 2019, the Northern Irish Assembly had passed a motion rejecting the changes to the law. Across the two votes held, 75 of the 90 MLAs voted against the provisions in the regulations allowing abortion for non-fatal disabilities.

Stalling abortion legislation

The implementation of the legislation imposed by the UK government has, however, been stalled, due to differences within the five-party executive. Both Stormont and Westminster are reportedly facing legal action from the Human Rights Commission over the delay.

In an unprecedented move, Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland Secretary, will lay new regulations in Parliament next week to allow him to direct the Northern Irish Department of Health in implementing the laws.

‘Raises serious questions’

In response to the news, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP, stated: “Abortion is a devolved matter. Any more by a [Northern Ireland] minister to legislate over the head of the Northern Ireland executive would raise serious questions about when and in what areas the government can make interventions in a devolved administration.”

DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster reportedly met the Northern Ireland Secretary alongside Sir Jeffrey Donaldson on Thursday night to discuss the matter further.

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