Saturday, December 4

Northern Ireland Office Can Directly Instruct Trusts To Offer Abortion Services | North Ireland

Brandon Lewis could override the Northern Ireland executive and directly instruct the nation’s health trusts to provide abortion services, warning leaders in a leaked letter that continued delay is unacceptable conduct in public office.

The Northern Ireland secretary wrote to Prime Minister Paul Givan and his deputy, Michelle O’Neill, warning them that soon “I would have no choice but to take further action to ensure that women and girls have access to abortion services. as decided by parliament, and to those who have the right ”.

The Guardian understands that the Northern Ireland Office could explore the possibility of working directly with health trusts to implement the abortion provision if Stormont does not take steps to ensure they do so. Lewis warned in his letter that continued failure could leave Stormont in violation of the European convention on human rights.

In a separate letter to Health Minister Robin Swann, Lewis demanded to see a detailed assessment of progress to date and a roadmap to meet the March 2022 deadline. He said NIO officials had been prevented from attending meetings with the department, which he described as “unacceptable.”

Abortion was decriminalized in Northern Ireland in October 2019 after a vote in Westminster led by Labor MP Stella Creasy. But since the Northern Ireland Department of Health has not commissioned or funded any services, some trusts must attempt to provide a service without funding or framework.

Previously, in Northern Ireland, abortions were only allowed if a woman’s life was at risk or if she was at risk of permanent damage to her mental or physical health. In most cases, it meant that women seeking service were forced to make sometimes traumatic trips to England, risking prosecution.

Earlier this year, Lewis said he would take unprecedented steps and use parliament to give himself new powers to commission services. Stormont has been formally ordered to commission the services before the end of March 2022, but there have been few material improvements.

A higher court judge ruled this month that Lewis had failed to fulfill his duties to provide full abortion services in Northern Ireland after a woman asked to travel to England for an abortion during the pandemic submitted a judicial review.

Lewis previously said he was disappointed with the ruling, adding that he had been the only party to take action to try to force the executive to provide the services.

In the leaked letter to the Guardian, Lewis warned Givan and O’Neill that he was willing to make an unprecedented new intervention in the Northern Ireland health service, saying it was “completely unacceptable” to try to block a legal duty.

“I strongly believe that there is also a moral duty for women and girls to ensure that their fundamental human rights are guaranteed, the same rights that are granted to women and girls in the rest of the UK,” she wrote.

“The executive cannot continue to delay in this matter and the court could well conclude that a decision not to accept proposals for the commissioning of services violates Article 8 of the ECHR.”

Lewis said he agreed with the judge, who called the delay “discouraging.”

“In fact, I would go further. Those who hold public office must comply with their legal obligations whether or not they are in accordance with the law in question, “he wrote in the letter.

Lewis said that if it became “clear” to me that the Health Department or the executive “were not making enough progress, or had the intention of blocking this problem, I will have no choice but to take further action to ensure that women and girls have access to abortion services as decided by parliament, and to those who are entitled ”.

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