In a letter to Mr Jim Wells, chairman of the Northern Ireland Assembly's health committee, the department has announced that it has withdrawn its interim guidance on abortion. The department also announced that it was launching a public consultation on the guidance.
Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland told the media:
"We are very pleased that the health minister has withdrawn the interim guidance. This was the aim of the SPUC's application for a judicial review, due to be heard in September. The health minister has done the sensible thing by withdrawing the guidance. Otherwise he would have been ordered by the courts for a second time to withdraw it.
"When we challenged the original guidance in the High Court last year, the judge rejected a request from the department that it should be allowed to withdraw only the sections on counselling and conscientious objection. Health officials simply ignored this ruling. They quickly re-published the guidance with those sections left out. Otherwise the document was unchanged.
"Both the information given to women and the rights of medical personnel are central to clinical practice. We believe that any guidance which says nothing about these issues is fundamentally flawed, and should never have been published. The department finally seems to have accepted that.
"Until now, the health department has acted in a high-handed and belligerent manner regarding the guidance. The department appeared determined to pursue its own agenda, rather than apply the law. We will be working closely with pro-life members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and its health committee to ensure that the department's consultation does not result in the rights of women, unborn children or the medical profession being undermined."