I completely understand what an incredibly emotive issue this is. Having received a large volume of letters regarding this topic, I appreciate the strength of feeling on both sides. It is a highly sensitive issue, regardless of where your view lies and one where it is important that the matter is considered with due care and sensitivity.
I welcome the action the Government has taken to meet its legal obligation and introduce the abortion framework for Northern Ireland. The Government was placed under a statutory duty to deliver abortion law for Northern Ireland by implementing the recommendations of the CEDAW report. That duty came into effect, given that the Executive was not restored by 21 October 2019.
The Regulations have now been debated and approved by both Houses of the UK Parliament, as required, and therefore remain in force as the law on access to abortion services in Northern Ireland. This means that since 31 March 2020, when the initial Regulations came into force, abortion services in Northern Ireland must be provided in a way that is consistent with the legal parameters set out in the Regulations.
Access to abortion services in Northern Ireland is now a clinical health matter for the Northern Ireland Department of Health, and Health and Social Care Trusts, to take forward as a new health service. Some service provision has commenced on the ground in Northern Ireland through existing sexual and reproductive health services in several Trust areas to date. To facilitate this, Informing Choices Northern Ireland is acting as the Central Access Point in order to provide a local pathway to this local abortion care. The Central Booking Service in England can also continue to be contacted for support and advice on options available at present.
The Government stands ready to provide whatever support and guidance it can and I understand that the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, has written to the relevant Northern Ireland ministers to ensure the implementation of all of the recommendations under paragraphs 85 and 86 of the CEDAW Report. Abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, so should the Assembly wish to amend the regulations it would be able to do so, providing any amendments were CEDAW compliant.