The NHS is right to stop charging Northern Irish women for abortions, but the fight shouldn't have taken this longby Sian Norris / June 29, 2017 / Leave a comment
Two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that women from Northern Ireland would not be entitled to free abortion services on the NHS in England, the Government has announced a startling u-turn. Today, Women’s and Equalities Minister Justine Greening wrote to the Government to say that “at present, women from Northern Ireland are asked for payment . . . from now on it is our proposal that this will no longer happen.”
The u-turn comes after Labour MP Stella Creasy tabled an amendment requesting that Northern Irish women should be entitled to free abortions on the NHS in England. This morning the Speaker confirmed that the amendment—which had cross-party support from over 50 MPs—would be included in the Queen’s Speech debate. By the afternoon, Greening had sent her letter announcing the change.
Creasy’s proposed amendment formed part of the “My Pledge Her Choice” campaign. The campaign encouraged people across the UK to urge their MPs to protect and extend abortion rights across the country. Co-founder of the campaign, Ellie Cumbo, told me:
“Despite being in a small minority in the UK, those who oppose or want to limit abortion are well-funded and extremely vocal, especially in lobbying Parliament.”
“My Pledge, Her Choice was set up to give pro-choice MPs and candidates of all parties a platform to declare that they will always vote to protect, defend and extend abortion rights, no matter what.”
Although abortion is available (with restrictions) in England, Scotland and Wales, it remains illegal in Northern Ireland. Women and girls found to have accessed abortion services in the province face a prison sentence of up to 14 years. As a result of these draconian laws, 2,000 women and girls travel across the Irish Sea every year to have the procedure. Yet, despite being UK taxpayers, these women have so far not been entitled to a termination for free on the NHS, as their British counterparts are.
This created a situation where abortion is only available to those who can afford it—and out of reach for poorer, and more vulnerable, women and girls. Those who can’t scrape together the money to travel to the UK and have the procedure are forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, or risk their health and freedom with illegal abortion pills purchased online.