Assembly to divide on abortion again

In the coming days Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey is to bring a proposal to the Executive to commission abortion services in the north. Individual health trusts have set up temporary early medical abortion pathways. However nothing has yet been commissioned by the Department of Health itself. 

Sinn Féin President Mary-Lou McDonald said

“Legislation was passed in March 2019, following a widespread public campaign where we heard the real experiences and real lives of women and their families.

“Women in the north are legally entitled to modern and compassionate healthcare and it is totally unacceptable that two years on the Health Minister has not commissioned services.”

The SDLP’s Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said that she will “carefully consider” any paper that comes to the Executive table and said she understands that the Communities Minister is seeking legal advice ahead of bringing forward proposals.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has said that the “Health Minister’s stalling is unacceptable.”

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis also said in response :

“I would welcome a renewed focus on the NI Executive securing the abortion services that women and girls are legally and morally entitled to.

“We should all take our obligations on this issue incredibly seriously – it is a human right to be able to access quality healthcare.”

The focus on the issue also follows the adoption of a People before Profit motion by Derry City and Strabane Council last month which called on the Health Minister to commission abortion services.

Aontú East Derry representative Gemma Brolly has criticised the move by Sinn Féin.

“Shockingly there were well over 700 abortions in the North in the last year, yet it’s seems this is not enough for Sinn Féin.

“Sinn Féin are now pushing for the law to be changed again so the numbers of Irish lives ended will increase”.

Speaking last month in response to an Assembly question Health Minister Robin Swann said that

“Initial consideration of a commissioning specification was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April of this year, I sought Executive agreement, as required by the Ministerial Code when an issue is cross cutting and controversial, to introduce an emergency early medical abortion service for the duration of the pandemic.

“The Executive has yet to agree my proposal. I am therefore unable to give a timescale for the introduction of services.”

However critics across the Executive table have argued that the Minister has a legal responsibility to set up abortion provision under the law.

There is set to be debate and discussion on the issue throughout this week as Paul Givan brings his Private Members Bill (Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill) forward to Second Stage for debate tomorrow (Monday).

The last time this Assembly debated the issue MLAs backed a DUP motion by 46 votes to 40.

Expect another close result tomorrow.