Updated 3 hours ago
Northern Ireland’s Foreign Minister Brandon Lewis said he was “deeply disappointed” after a High Court judge ruled that he had failed to comply with his duties by not ensuring that full abortion services were provided to women in the region promptly.
In a statement on Twitter, Lewis said he believed that women in Northern Ireland “should have the same reproductive rights as women in the rest of the UK”.
He also said he was “deeply disappointed” that the Northern Ireland Executive and Department of Health “appear to be willfully ignoring the well-being and rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland”.
Judge Colton issued the ruling after the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched a judicial review against the Foreign Secretary, as well as the Northern Ireland Executive and the region’s Department of Health for their failure to authorize and fund abortion services.
Claims against the Minister of Health, Robin Swann, and the Executive have been dismissed.
But regarding Lewis, the judge said: “The Court declares that between April 2020 and March 2021 the Secretary of State failed to comply with his duties under Section 9 of the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act 2019 because he failed to ascertain expeditiously that the State would provide women with access to the care of High quality abortion and post-abortion services in all public facilities in Northern Ireland.
“The Court refuses to issue any order (a warrant issued as an order) against the Secretary of State.”
I believe that women from Northern Ireland should have the same reproductive rights as women across the UK, and I am deeply disappointed with today’s court ruling. (1/5)
Brandon Lewis October 14, 2021
In response, Lewis said only the UK government had taken “concrete steps” to make abortion services available in Northern Ireland.
“I introduced the Regulations in March 2020, to set out the legal framework for abortion services in Northern Ireland. In March 2021, when no progress had been made by the Executive, I put in place further regulations with the authority to guide Ministers.
He also said that women in Northern Ireland “should have access to safe and local abortion services as part of their right to health care”.
“That’s why in July I directed the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Robin Swan and the Health and Social Care Council to mandate and make abortion services available by March 2022,” he said.
“We will continue to drive progress until this is achieved,” he added.
Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were liberalized in 2019 after legislation passed by Westminster at a time when the region’s power-sharing government has collapsed.
However, while individual health trusts provide services on an ad hoc basis, the Ministry of Health has not centrally delegated these services.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission case has supported a woman affected by the lack of assignment of services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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After starting legal proceedings earlier this year, Lewis moved to end the deadlock by formally directing Stormont to commission the services.
He used new powers to direct ministers in Belfast to take the necessary steps to spread abortion services across the region, with a deadline of the end of March 2022.
Judge Colton, who delivered his ruling in Belfast High Court today, said, “Those who hold public office, including the judiciary, must obey and enforce the law.
“It should not be necessary for the court to delegate something by judicial review in circumstances in which those in public office are unwilling to comply with their legal obligations because they do not agree with the relevant law.”
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Senior Commissioner Alison Kilpatrick responded: “This has been an important issue for the Commission to take up in support of the human rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland.
We welcome the Supreme Court’s ruling and will now take the time to review the impact of the decision.
“NI’s operational responsibility to uphold the human rights of women and girls remains in place.
“We will continue to monitor progress in operating and financing the service in Northern Ireland.”
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