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Government agrees Northern Irish women can receive free abortions in England

Conservative government makes additional money available to allow Northern Irish women to have abortion in England.
Woman at airport

Women living in Northern Ireland will be able to have an abortion on the NHS in England, the government has agreed

The decision staved off a defeat in the House of Commons after a tabled Labour Party amendment to the Queen's Speech gained support from many Conservative MPs.

It means women who currently travel to mainland Britain from Northern Ireland for private terminations will now be able to have the procedure free of charge in NHS facilities in England.

Working majority

Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, however they can be performed if a woman's life or physical or mental health is deemed in danger.

The Conservative government only holds a working majority with support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which

Women living in Northern Ireland will be able to have an abortion on the NHS in England, the government has agreed

Woman at airport
Abortion is illegal in Ireland and some women travel to England for private terminations.
Picture: iStock

The decision staved off a defeat in the House of Commons after a tabled Labour Party amendment to the Queen's Speech gained support from many Conservative MPs.

It means women who currently travel to mainland Britain from Northern Ireland for private terminations will now be able to have the procedure free of charge in NHS facilities in England.

Working majority

Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, however they can be performed if a woman's life or physical or mental health is deemed in danger.

The Conservative government only holds a working majority with support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party – which is against abortion – and has needed full support to pass the Queen's Speech unamended.

Backbench Labour MP Stella Creasy had tabled an amendment to the Queen's Speech, which was selected for debate and a vote last night (29 June), to allow for Northern Irish women to have abortion in England free of charge.

Supportive Conservative MPs included Sir Peter Bottomley who asked chancellor Philip Hammond during a separate Commons debate why 'only the poor should be denied lawful abortions'.

Sensitive issue

Shortly after, a letter was sent to all MPs from minister for women and equalities Justine Greening, which said: 'At present women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment, and from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen.

'This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality in treatment of women from Northern Ireland.

'Following discussions with the Department of Health, we will ensure these payments will be funded through the Government Equalities Office with additional funding. This will mean no English health service user is disadvantaged as a result of this change.'

Landmark moment

A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: 'This is a landmark moment. For years the women of Northern Ireland, despite being UK citizens and taxpayers, have not been entitled to NHS-funded treatment.

'Clearly this is not the solution to the gross injustice whereby women in Northern Ireland are denied access to abortion care at home, and we look forward to seeing progress on that front. Nevertheless this is an important moment.' 

Ms Creasy tweeted: 'Thank you to MPs on all sides who supported the call for change to help northern Irish women have equal access to abortion.'


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