Free abortions in England for Northern Irish women

Joy Montgomery
June 30, 2017

In a major concession to opposition Labour MPs, Theresa May's Conservative government has agreed to allow Northern Irish women to use the NHS for abortions, just hours before MPs were set to vote on an amendment calling on the government to do so.

Ms Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow in London, is yet to withdraw her amendment following Mr Hammond's comments, so a vote may well still be held.

Rudd's response, meanwhile, was prompted by a question during the debate from Tory MP Anna Soubry, who said there was "much concern on both sides of the house about the situation pertaining to women who live in Northern Ireland who seek terminations".

The minority Conservative government was under pressure to ensure free abortions for Northern Irish women since it entered into a "confidence and supply agreement" with Northern Ireland's DUP party, which largely opposes abortion.

A lower court had ruled that abortion legislation breached the European Convention on Human Rights by barring the procedure when a foetus has a fatal abnormality or is conceived through rape or incest.

It is however a huge step forward, particularly coming on the same day when the high court in Belfast rejected an earlier judgment saying Northern Ireland's abortion laws contravened human rights.

"We first raised this issue in 2013 and remain as concerned today in 2017 that the law as it stands does not protect women and girls right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment", NIRHC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said in a statement.

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The leader of Northern Ireland's Alliance Party described the move a "helpful measure" but not a solution, as women would still have to travel and face financial costs while Northern Ireland continued to "export" the issue.

This is also what reproductive rights campaigners have been lobbying for, and is ultimately what the government should adopt for women across the whole of the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland).

Thursday's ruling was delivered by three of Northern Ireland's most senior judges.

The letter followed the Speaker selecting an amendment to the Queen's Speech relating to access to abortions.

Following Stella Creasy's attempt to amend the Queen's speech, the government has offered a new commitment to fund abortions for Northern Irish women on the NHS in England and Wales.

"When a woman opts to have an abortion - I stress that that is never, ever an easy decision for any woman - the procedure should be available in a safe and legal way".

Political parties in Northern Ireland are divided on abortion. This may not the end of the matter as it could end up in the Supreme Court. "The judges had a chance to put right centuries of human rights abuse but with a flick of the pen they've just let down another generation of women and girls in Northern Ireland".

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