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Members of pro choice group Alliance for Choice make their way to Stormont, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Oct. 21, 2019.Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The British government on Thursday said it was preparing to provide abortion services in Northern Ireland, despite objections from socially conservative politicians in the British-run province.

Britain’s parliament voted in 2019 to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland, at the time one of the last regions in Western Europe with a ban, and last year directed the devolved provincial government in Belfast to provide liberal abortion services by the end of this month.

The government believes the Northern Ireland Department for Health will miss the end of March deadline and is preparing regulations that would allow London to directly commission abortion services in the province if urgent progress is not made.

“I firmly believe women and girls must have access to safe, high-quality abortion care in Northern Ireland. It is unacceptable that access to basic abortion health care is not available as it is across the rest of the U.K.,” Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said in a statement.

“It has become clear the Northern Ireland Department of Health will fail to commission abortion services in full by the deadline I set out last year despite being given every opportunity to do so.”

The secretary of state said the British government was setting up a small team in the Northern Ireland Office with relevant health experience to work directly with the Northern Irish Department of Health on the issue.

The planned regulations would compel the Department of Health to make abortion services available as soon as is reasonably practicable, and remove the need for approval by the devolved government before the services can be commissioned.

The secretary of state will have the powers to intervene directly following elections for the devolved provincial government in May.

Northern Ireland’s largest party, the conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is opposed to abortion and has vowed to oppose the development of any abortion services in Northern Ireland.

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