The British government is taking new powers to ensure the availability of abortion services for women and girls in Northern Ireland.

Despite being legalised in 2019, only interim services are available, with critics saying women are subject to a "postcode lottery".

At present, early medical intervention is available up to ten weeks and beyond that access to services varies.

The British government decriminalised abortion in Northern Ireland, but said it was up to Stormont to organise and provide the services.

The Executive was split on the issue with DUP opposition preventing movement.

Now, Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis will introduce regulations to remove the requirement for Stormont's Department of Health to seek Executive approval to commission full services.

He said he will seek a commitment from Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann that there would be no further delay.

The regulations give the UK government the power to act to ensure the provision of services, even though it is a devolved issue.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that the Executive and Department of Health have failed women and girls, meaning that they cannot currently access the same basic abortion healthcare that is available to women and girls in the rest of the UK.

"That's why I am acting to remove any further barriers to delivering services," Mr Lewis said.

Alliance Party politician Paula Bradshaw welcomed the move but said it "still falls a little short".

The MLA for South Belfast told RTÉ's Drivetime that while trusts have been providing "some" abortion services "there is no uniformity ... they are very piecemeal".

Ms Bradshaw said that once services were fully commissioned, then women would no longer face having to travel to Britain, as "a lot of women" still had to do.

Asked if there were women from Northern Ireland travelling into the Republic to avail of abortion services, she said there may be some, but that the majority were crossing the Irish Sea.

The abortion law allows for early medical intervention up to 12 weeks; for abortions up to 24 weeks where there is a risk to the physical or mental wellbeing of the mother and beyond that where there is a diagnosis of serious or fatal foetal abnormality.

DUP MP Carla Lockhart said the decision poses questions for the British government in terms of its respect for the devolution settlement.

"This is a bad decision by the Secretary of State and a bad day for Northern Ireland," she said adding that it was "a deeply divided issue".

Amnesty International welcomed the announcement.

Campaigns manager Grainne Teggart said: "This is a welcome and necessary move. Once again action from Westminster is needed to ensure that abortion rights are realised here.

"Commissioned services, accessible to all who need them, are long overdue.

"We need to see a swift end to our postcode lottery for provision."

Ruairi Rowan of Informing Choices NI said: "The failure to have commissioned services in place also continues to deny timely access to much needed counselling support as our funding requests remain stuck within the commissioning standoff."