Abortion services “will be commissioned in Northern Ireland” before legislation relating to the formation of the Northern Ireland Executive passes through the Lords, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker has told MPs.
His comments came as Labour’s Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) urged the Government to act, warning that for the last three years “abortion might be legal, it is not accessible”.
Speaking during the Commons second reading of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill, she said: “We have seen women time and time again in Northern Ireland, of the two million women there, denied that right. That abortion might be legal, it is not accessible.
“Through those last three years, the reason that we’ve been given is about a stand-off, frankly, between the Northern Ireland health department and this Government, and the Government upholding the rights set out in the 2019 Act, of the human rights of women in Northern Ireland.”
Intervening from the frontbench, Mr Baker said: “She has won this argument and I can tell her that we are making enormous progress in this respect towards delivering abortion, and I can confirm, the Government can confirm, to the House that services will be commissioned in Northern Ireland before this Bill passes through the other place.”
Ms Creasy added: “It requires implementation, it requires delivery. The last three years have been a story of not delivering, of not meeting the promise that we made to those women in Northern Ireland.”
Earlier in the debate Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he has instructed his permanent secretary to commission abortion services in Northern Ireland.
Ms Creasy asked: “Women in Northern Ireland have been waiting patiently for safe, legal and local abortion services. So, could the Secretary of State tell us how many more days they think it’s acceptable to ask them to wait now that he has both the powers and the money to deliver them? Would, for example, 90 days be enough?”
The Northern Ireland Secretary replied: “My officials have been working closely with the Northern Ireland department for health and I will be instructing, indeed have done, the permanent secretary to commission abortion services in Northern Ireland and we are also ensuring that the required funding is allocated for those services.
“Funding will be ring-fenced in the Northern Ireland budget as set out by my written ministerial statement of last week.
“This will mean, in line with my statutory duty, health and social care trusts will have both the assurance of commission service and the guarantee of funding for that service allowing them to recruit and plan for the full rollout of services that this House decided women should have access to.”