On Thursday 29th June 2017, the government announced its decision to provide fully funded abortion care for Northern Irish women who travel to England for treatment. The announcement followed an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which was tabled by Stella Creasy MP and supported by over 100 MPs from across the political parties.
This is a huge step forward for the women of Northern Ireland, who will no longer need to raise the funds themselves for their treatment.
Of course there is still much more to do: Northern Irish women will still have to travel, and we will continue fighting until they have access to safe, legal abortion services in their own country. But nevertheless this is an important moment, which will make the lives of Northern Irish women significantly easier in the future.
The full announcement is available online here.
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The 1967 Abortion Act, which gave women in England, Wales and Scotland access to lawful abortion services, was never extended to Northern Ireland. Therefore, NI women faced with an unwanted pregnancy had to either travel to England for help (at huge personal cost), or use abortion medication purchased online, illegally – and risk up to life imprisonment.
To make matters worse, NI women who travelled to England for treatment were not entitled to NHS-funded abortion services and therefore must pay privately for treatment, despite the fact that they are UK citizens and UK taxpayers. In June 2017, Jeremy Hunt’s policy of denying NI women NHS-funded care was narrowly upheld by the Supreme Court, in a ruling which nevertheless expressed profound sympathy for the ‘plight’ of women in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, from 2013 – 2016, the government spent £3m through the Department for International Development to help women in developing countries access safe abortion services, stating that: “Women and adolescent girls must have the right to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and well-being, and be able to choose whether, when and how many children to have.” And yet, the same right was not granted to Northern Irish citizens.
In June 2017, a letter to the Secretary of State for Health, urging him to review this unfair policy, was signed by MPs from all the main political parties.