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Abortion Services

Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

If he will make an assessment of the effect of the collapse of Flybe on the ability of women in Northern Ireland to access abortion services in England.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Government have been engaging on this issue with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which is contracted to provide booking services for women travelling to England to access abortion services. Flights have been rebooked for anyone affected by the collapse of Flybe to ensure access for women and girls. The Government continue to fund all the costs of the procedure, including travel and, where needed, accommodation. We are also working closely with the devolved Administrations, the Department for Transport and airlines to identify opportunities and to encourage them to act quickly to fill routes that are vital for local communities and business. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned, a number of routes have already been taken up.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I thank the Minister for that answer but, of course, abortion was decriminalised in October 2019 and we now see the lost opportunity of this medical procedure not being provided over the last six months in Northern Ireland. The failure to do that means that we are now in a much more difficult position with covid-19. Has the Minister given any more thought to what other action he could take to ensure that services are available to women in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Government are under a clear duty to deliver abortion reform for Northern Ireland, consistent with section 9 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which requires that evidence-based protocols are adopted for the provision of services in Northern Ireland. Those regulations will be laid, and the deadline for that is the end of this month.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

In the current circumstances, the priority of my party is to protect human life, including that of the unborn child. The Minister will be aware of concerns expressed by members of my party, including the First Minister, about the decision to press on with regulations on abortion in Northern Ireland, despite the Assembly being restored and this being a clear breach of the devolution settlement. Will the Minister heed the calls from Northern Ireland politicians for this matter to be dealt with by the Assembly, not this Parliament?

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I recognise the strong views on all sides on this issue. I also recognise the constitutional challenge, but the deadlines within which we have to act were clearly set by Parliament. It was clear that if the Assembly was not in place by the deadline in October, the Government would be under a legal obligation to lay the regulations by March. That is the obligation under which we are acting.