Relief and sorrow: Reactions after UK government moves on abortion capacity in Northern Ireland

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Campaigners and the Catholic Church have given their reactions after the UK government instructed the NI Department of Health to move ahead with providing abortion services in all Trusts across the north of Ireland.

The Department of Health said it “acknowledges the legal requirements placed on it by the Secretary of State and has been working closely with the Northern Ireland Office on the planned commissioning of abortion services in Northern Ireland.”

The legal instruction on commissioning and the ring fencing of funding will mean that HSC Trusts will have the “necessary resources to ensure a full range of abortion services will be available in NI, including putting in place the necessary staffing and training required” the statement issued said.

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Early Medical Abortion up to nine weeks and six days gestation is available across all five Health Trusts and up to 11 weeks and 6 days gestation in the Northern Trust for Northern Trust area residents.

LEFT: Campaigners from Alliance for Choice at a previous rally in Derry. Right: Archbishop Eamon Martin.LEFT: Campaigners from Alliance for Choice at a previous rally in Derry. Right: Archbishop Eamon Martin.
LEFT: Campaigners from Alliance for Choice at a previous rally in Derry. Right: Archbishop Eamon Martin.

During the lead-in time for additional services to become operational in NI, the government said women and girls can continue to access funded services in Britain.

Alliance for Choice said it was ‘relieved’ at the commissioning of abortion provision three years after decriminalisation.

Emma Campbell Co-Convenor said: “We welcome the Secretary of State for NI announcement detailing timely provision of full CEDAW compliant abortion services in Northern Ireland and funding. We are saddened for hundreds who have still had to travel despite the change in law. All abortion needs should now be accommodated by provision in Northern Ireland, where we will finally be closer to the recommendations of the United Nations as the minimum human rights standards for abortion, written into our law.”

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Naomi Connor Co-Convenor said: “Thanks to conscientious providers we have seen thousands already avail of the Early Medical Abortion services, but they have been working without the proper support of their Health Trusts as they have not been centrally commissioned. Once this has changed we will finally have funding, training and awareness raising for the people who provide the care, and hopefully a full awareness campaign and public information on legitimate services.”

Those opposed to abortion meanwhile have criticised the development.

Catholic primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin criticised the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris MP for instructing the Department of Health to proceed with the commissioning and funding of abortion services and claimed ti went against the principle of devolution.

Archbishop Martin said: “In recent years successive Secretaries of State have been moving with alacrity to expedite the introduction of some of the most extreme and liberal abortion services on these islands, invoking the primacy of Westminster and undermining the principle of devolution.

"This urgency to push through abortion while the Northern Ireland Assembly is down, continues as Christmas approaches, while little is seemingly being done to ensure the urgent provision of Westminster support for the most vulnerable, including children, impacted by the Cost of Living Crisis.”

He added: “The abortion regulations being introduced by Westminster are predicated on the assumption that the unborn child in the womb has no right to love, care and protection from society, unless the child is wanted. Nothing could be further from the truth. None of us acquire our humanity, or our fundamental right to existence, on the basis of whether or not we are wanted.

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“An important mark of any humane and compassionate society is our ability to work through difficult challenges in a way which is life affirming, not life destroying. Followers of Jesus, and countless others who advocate the equal right to life of every mother and her unborn baby, believe that as a human family we have the capacity to love and care for one another, especially for mothers facing crisis in pregnancy, in a way that does not involve bringing about the death and destruction of vulnerable children in the womb.”

“The Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland have spoken out strongly and often on these issues in recent years. We remain committed to working with all sectors of society in Northern Ireland so that a culture of life and care becomes a reality for all.”