Northern Ireland’s First Minister has said he will block any move by Westminster to force Stormont to set up full abortion services.

Paul Givan said he has sought legal advice on how to “resist” powers that would direct Stormont to roll out abortion services by March.

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were liberalised in 2019 following legislation passed by Westminster, but full services have not yet been centrally commissioned due to disagreements between the Executive parties.

Brandon Lewis
Brandon Lewis (Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has used new powers to direct ministers in Belfast to take the steps necessary to establish abortion services across the region.

Health Minister Robin Swann previously said he could not commission services without the approval of the wider five-party coalition Executive, insisting it is his legal responsibility to refer controversial or significant decisions to the other ministers.

To secure Executive approval, the DUP and Sinn Fein must both agree.

The anti-abortion DUP has blocked consideration of the commissioning issue at the Executive.

Mr Givan said he is assessing all his options, politically and legally.

The DUP Assembly member said: “I spoke to the Secretary of State and I said to him he shouldn’t do this, that it was wrong for him to do it.

“I was disappointed whenever he proceeded in issuing that direction.

“We are taking legal advice now as to the implications of that legal action that he has taken and what our options legally are to resist that.

“It certainly is my intention to resist what the Secretary of State has done by way of a direction but I need to look at all of my options, both politically and legally, whenever it comes to this particular issue.”

Mr Givan told BBC Northern Ireland that the order made by Mr Lewis had “profound constitutional ramifications”.

He said Mr Lewis “may have to take me to court” for obstructing the Westminster direction.

Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party and Green Party welcomed the move by the Secretary of State.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill previously said a “blockage” of women’s rights by the DUP had been overcome.