A move to direct the commissioning of abortion services in Northern Ireland is an “over-reach” of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State’s powers, the DUP has said.
The UK government is set to take legislative action at Westminster this week to give Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis the powers to force Stormont’s Department of Health to roll out abortion services across the region.
However, DUP MP Carla Lockhart said it was a devolved issue.
“This is an over-reach of the Secretary of State’s powers. This is a health issue and therefore it is for our health minister [Robin Swann] to bring forward suggested regulations on the commissioning of services,” Ms Lockhart told BBC Sunday Politics Programme.
Abortion laws in the region were liberalised by MPs at Westminster in 2019 at a time when powersharing was collapsed.
New regulations came into operation a year ago and while individual health trusts are offering services on an ad-hoc basis, the Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the services on a region-wide basis.
In the absence of fully-commissioned services being available, women from Northern Ireland are still travelling to England to access abortions.
Ms Lockhart said the intervention by Westminster was “unacceptable” and claimed people in Northern Ireland did not support the decision.
She also claimed the abortion legislation introduced by Westminster went “much further” than was recommended.
“Westminster has done what is required of them. If you actually look at the legislation, it mentions the Department of Health in terms of commissioning, therefore, it is not for them to get involved in this issue,” she added.
“This is a devolved issue, it is a health issue and therefore health is wholly the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive.
“If the Northern Ireland Executive can’t come to an agreement, it is up to the courts to determine what is required of our Executive.”
Amid an ongoing stand-off within the Stormont Executive on the issue, Mr Lewis is set to act, by way of regulation at Westminster, to direct the department to commission the services.
Minister for Justice Naomi Long said that the Assembly should proceed to commission the services that is required in law.
“I would prefer this is done by Executive, I would prefer the Executive would step up and undertake its duties properly,” Ms Long added.
“But in the absence of that, Brandon does have the right to take on these responsibilities.
“We are in a situation now where any discussion of this can be blocked by one party in the Executive where we don’t have consensus around how to take it forward.”