Northern Irish women no longer need to fund their own 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.

Rather than risk more Tory MPs joining a rebellion, raising the prospect of a Government defeat, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced ministers had found the cash needed.

While this case focused on abortions on grounds of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime, neither of which count as legal grounds for an abortion in Northern Ireland, there are many reasons why people choose to end a pregnancy.

In a case involving a 15 year-old girl from Northern Ireland, the Supreme Court ruled in June that the UK Government had the right to refuse to pay for terminations on the NHS.

This will surely reduce the financial burden for women travelling from Northern Ireland for terminations they can not obtain at home, but it does not erase this burden entirely, and nor does it address the emotional trauma of being forced to access basic healthcare far from home.

However, it is thought that today's announcement will be enough to satisfy Tory MPs enough to ensure that Ms Creasy's amendment does not pass, or she withdraws it.

Women and girls should be able to access safe abortion in Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom government has failed in its obligations to fulfil this right there for too long.

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.

A ruling that Northern Ireland's restrictive abortion laws breach human rights in certain cases was overturned by a Belfast court on Thursday, the same day Britain pledged to fund terminations for Northern Irish women who travel to England.

That policy was upheld by a case in the Supreme Court earlier this month.

The controversy has unfolded before an important judgment on Northern Ireland's abortion law.

Commons Speaker John Bercow confirmed he has selected the amendment to the Government's legislative programme, meaning MPs will have a chance to vote on it at the conclusion of the Queen's Speech debate.

The vote looks set to be the first serious test of May's deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Government Equalities Office, coupled with the UK's Department Of Health, will be receiving additional funding to make this possible. Northern Ireland only allows abortions if the woman's life is in danger or there is risk or permanent mental or physical damage. This is clearly a sensitive issue and one which has direct implications for equality in treatment of women from Northern Ireland.

However, with the amendment in place, Northern Irish women will no longer be responsible for funding the 400-pound ($520) to 2,000-pound ($2,601) procedure themselves.

"What I can tell honourable members is the department for equalities and the Department of Health are discussing and looking very closely at this issue today".

  • Santos West