Northern Irish women will receive free abortions in England by end of year

A pro-choice rally in Belfast earlier this year [Photo: Getty]

The government has announced it will pay for Northern Irish women to have abortions in England by the end of the year.

There are an estimated 700 women a year who make the journey to England, Scotland or Wales for a safe abortion, and costs can be high.

An abortion for a pregnancy up to 14 weeks can cost £410, while a 19 week abortion can reach £1,350 – without taking into consideration the costs for getting to and staying in the country.

The only other option is to have an illegal procedure in Northern Ireland or to order abortion pills off of the Internet.

The government plans to set up a telephone booking system that will allow women in Northern Ireland to speak to a healthcare professional in England, before arranging the procedure.

Those who earn less than £15,276 will have their accommodation and travel paid for as well.

Under the plans, Northern Ireland women would be entitled to:

  • A consultation with an abortion provider in England
  • A free procedure
  • An offer of contraception
  • HIV or STI testing
  • Support with travel costs if under the threshold.

The three main providers in England have not been charging Northern Irish women since June, said Justine Greening, women and equalities secretary.

She called the charge an injustice and said, in a statement, the government would work to change its stance.

“We have invited providers of abortions in England to apply for funding to extend their service provision to women from Northern Ireland. The funding will be accessed via a grant scheme that will be administered by the Department of Health,” she commented.

“The cost of this service will be met by the Government Equalities Office with additional funding provided by HM Treasury.”

Around 700 women a year travel to England for the procedure [Photo: Reuters)

In June, Labour MP Stella Creasy called on the government to allow women to travel to England for free abortions.

Shortly after, it was confirmed this would be put into place.

Unlike other parts of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said: “We welcome today’s announcement, which we hope will provide women with the clarity and information they need at what can be an incredibly stressful time. After decades of political impasse on abortion rights in Northern Ireland, the government’s commitment to fund abortion care in England is a policy that will make a real difference. Bpas will also be funding travel and accommodation for those women who meet the government’s eligibility criteria until a permanent framework is in place.

“However, funded treatment in England is not the solution to the injustice of Northern Ireland’s archaic abortion laws. We know that even with financial support, the barriers to travelling for treatment will be insurmountable for some women. Politicians, both in Belfast and Westminster, must work to provide Northern Irish women with the care they need at home.”

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