Legal challenge over abortion services in Northern Ireland to start

NI Human Rights Commission says human rights have been breached

Pro-choice protesters hold up placards during a demonstration calling for abortion to be legalised in Northern Ireland, outside Belfast city hall in Belfast on May 28th, 2018. File photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty

Pro-choice protesters hold up placards during a demonstration calling for abortion to be legalised in Northern Ireland, outside Belfast city hall in Belfast on May 28th, 2018. File photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty

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A legal challenge against the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Stormont over the failure to commission and fund abortion services in Northern Ireland will start on Wednesday.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is taking Brandon Lewis, as well as the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department of Health to the High Court for a case which is expected to be heard over two days.

Abortion laws in Northern Ireland were liberalised in 2019 following legislation passed by Westminster at a time when the power-sharing government collapsed.

However, while individual health trusts have been offering services on an ad-hoc basis, the regulations were brought forward as the department had yet to centrally commission the services on a region-wide basis.

Last month the House of Commons formally approved regulations which enable Mr Lewis to take action on rolling out abortion services in Northern Ireland.

The commission’s case today supports a woman who was affected by the lack of commissioning of services during the Covid-19 pandemic. She has been granted anonymity by the court.

Chief commissioner of the commission Les Allamby said the legal action is to ensure access to abortion services.

‘Failure’

“The commission believes that the failure of the NI Executive and Department of Health to enable the funding and commissioning of abortion services in Northern Ireland breaches the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.

“We are disappointed at having to take legal action again, however, whilst women’s and girls’ human rights continue to be violated we will continue to challenge the law and practice in Northern Ireland.

“We would like to thank the woman who has bravely supported this case and shared her story to help further women and girls from having to go through such experiences in the future.” – PA