BELFAST – The United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland Secretary failed to comply with his duties to “expeditiously” provide women in the region with access to high quality abortion and post-abortion services, a judge in the British-run province ruled on Thursday.
Mr Justice Colton declined, however, to issue an order compelling British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to set out a timetable for the provision of the services, and dismissed a claim for a judicial review against the jurisdiction’s minister of health and the Executive Committee.
The High Court ruling came after the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched a judicial review challenge to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and its Department of Health over the failure to commission and fund abortion services.
“This was an important case for the Commission to take to uphold the human rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland,” said Chief Commissioner Alyson Kilpatrick.
“We welcome the High Court judgment today and will now take time to review the impact of the decision.”
“Abortion was legalised in Northern Ireland in 2019. Yet in 2021 women and girls continue to have to travel to England to access abortion services, are forced to continue a pregnancy against their wishes or take unregulated abortion pills,” Kilpatrick said.
“The Commission brought this case because of the unacceptable delay in the provision of adequate services.”
A new legal framework for abortion services took effect in March 2020, but devolved government services have not yet been properly introduced and funded because of disagreements between anti-abortion and pro-choice politicians.
The High Court found that between April 2020 and March 2021, Secretary of State Lewis failed to comply with the 2019 Act in that he failed to ensure expeditiously that the state provide women in Northern Ireland with access to high quality abortion and post-abortion care in all public health facilities.
The court noted that the situation is a fluid one with ongoing developments.
Since the hearing of the case, Lewis has directed relevant parties in Northern Ireland to commission abortion services by March 2022, which is likely to be further resisted by some politicians in the region.