NHS to fund abortions for NI women in England

29 Jun 17

The government has announced it will fund abortions for Northern Irish women in England, ahead of the vote in Parliament on the Queen’s Speech.

Chancellor Philip Hammond told MPs that the government would pay for the procedure, during today’s final debate on proposed legislation for the coming Parliament.

Women from Northern Ireland currently have to pay if they have an abortion in an English hospital.

Hammond said the Treasury would give money to the government equalities office, allowing the Department of Health to “commission” abortion services in England for women from Northern Ireland meaning NHS England would not face extra costs.

This was confirmed in a letter to MPs from Justine Greening, minister for women and equalities, who said: “I share the concerns of many colleagues about the experience of women from Northern Ireland obtaining an abortion through the NHS in England.”

She explained that healthcare is a devolved matter and the Northern Ireland had a longstanding position that abortions should be restricted and noted that a vote on the issue in the Commons would be a free vote because it was a “matter of conscience”.

Greening stated: “At present women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment and from now on it is our proposal that this will not happen.”

Abortion is heavily restricted in Northern Ireland, it is almost impossible for a women to have an abortion legally there.

Women from Northern Ireland travel to other parts of the UK to get abortions, which the Guardian reports costs around £900.

Hammond’s announcement comes after Labour backbencher Stella Creasy tabled an amendment to the government’s Queen’s Speech calling on the government to extend rights to free abortions for all women in the UK.

Had the vote gone ahead without the concession it was feared that enough Tory MPs could have voted against the government in a free vote to pass the amendment.

This would have placed the government and its supply and confidence partner the Democratic Unionist Party in an untenable position as the DUP would be unlikely to vote for an amended Queen’s Speech which granted abortion rights – something they oppose on religious grounds. This could have sparked another general election. 

Creasy had argued that the government should ensure “all UK citizens including those from Northern Ireland may access medical services including abortion procedures in England if they so wish without charge”.

Her suggested change to the Queen’s Speech was one of three amendments to selected for a vote by the speaker, the other two are from Labour MP Chuka Umunna and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

A vote on these and the whole Queen’s Speech are expected this evening.

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