Following the decriminalization of abortion in 2019, during the previous period when the Northern Ireland Assembly was not in session, the UK government has now commissioned state-funded abortion services in Northern Ireland.

Until now, those women who were more than ten weeks pregnant and therefore did not have access to abortion pills traveled to England to have their pregnancies terminated.

The announcement was made in the context of a written ministerial response by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris.

In response, Mr Heaton-Harris wrote: “October 21 marks three years since the decriminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland. It is wrong that three years on, women and girls in Northern Ireland are still unable to access the full range of health services to which they are legally entitled.”

Although responsibility for funding abortion services is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “The UK Government will ensure that adequate funding is available so that health professionals can take the necessary steps to provide essential training and hiring staff can develop and services can be implemented.”

With women across the UK now able to access abortion services, the announcement will stop any potential comparison between the UK and the US following the recent Supreme Court ruling. Abortion is currently illegal in 13 US states, and nearly half of US states plan to introduce gestational age limits or ban the procedure over time.

The news was not welcomed by the Democratic Unionist Party, which had previously been able to use its position in the Northern Ireland government to block spending on expanding abortion services. The party quit the Northern Ireland Executive back in February in protest at the Northern Ireland Trade Protocol, leading to a subsequent period of direct rule for Northern Ireland from London.

Reacting to the news, DUP MP Carla Lockhart tweeted: “Northern Ireland does not support abortion, never has. This is still not the case. Shameful decision of the Secretary of State”.

The move was welcomed in Westminster, with Lib Dem MP Leila Moran tweeting: “Good. Now women and girls across the UK will have equal access to services.”

UK government commissions state funded abortion services in Northern Ireland